The Beaches of Arizona (Part 1)

On the beach

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Back in 2012, we decided to take the kids back to our home state of Arizona and then do a big loop out to California. The kids were eleven and eight, so there were old enough to remember the trip and at that great age when they loved doing things as a family. It seemed like a good time.

We were going in early June, so we knew that Phoenix would be in the low 110 degF range each day, but we were also planning to go to Northern Arizona, which would see temperatures in the 70’s, and also out to the beach in California which might be in the low 80’s. During the time in Phoenix we decided to stay at the Pointe Resort, which had added a small waterpark as part of the resort, so we figured we’d just hang out in the water a lot of the time.

So the plan was to fly into Phoenix, then go up to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon for a couple of days, then drive through Lake Havasu City and Kingman, then out to LA and Anaheim, down to San Diego, then back to Phoenix. We got our digital camera, packed our suitcases, and jumped on the plane. In a few hours, we had landed at Sky Harbor Airport.

Phoenix

Photo by David Keindel on Pexels.com

We got into Phoenix. As expected, the heat was oppressive, but nothing we weren’t expecting. We went to the Pointe, which was arranged in a set of smaller buildings with eight or so condo-like rooms in each building. When we got to our room, the kids got a drink of water from the tap.

“Dad, this water is terrible!” said my son.

My wife and kids quickly declared that the water was undrinkable. I remembered drinking water from the tap growing up and never really minded the heavily chlorinated taste. After living in places with good tap water, however, I had to admit that it did taste a bit off. I thought we could tolerate it for a few days, but after consultation with my wife, I headed off to the supermarket to buy a bottle of water.

I went to the Abco, which was actually the supermarket we used when I was growing up in Phoenix (it was a Lucky’s supermarket at the time). I’d been there probably more than one hundred times. I bought a gallon jug of water (I’ve never understood paying a quarter for a single-serving of water) and headed back to the room. I also bought some soda and snacks.

We spent the next couple of days at the resort. The water park was nice with one big pool with a few slides from an upper level down into it and then a lazy river that went around the area. We also saw a few friends while we were in town and had dinner with them. After that, we loaded up the car, including the bottle of water, minus a glass, and headed up I-17 to Flagstaff.

Jerome, Sedona, and Oak Creek Canyon

OK, It was worth $20

Once we got out of the Valley and up onto the Mongolian Rim we stopped at Sunset Point, my favorite rest stop. Shortly after that we left I-17 and started to take the backroads.

The view from Sunset Point

First, we drove through Cottonwood and over to the ghost town of Jerome Arizona. Jerome is an old copper mining town, once known as the “Wickedest Town in the West.” It reached a population of 15,000 in the 1920’s, but was abandoned after WWII and became a ghost town. Then it was resettled with 50-100 residents there today. They even had an influx of hippies during the 1980’s and this largely isolated town is full of artists today. Many make art from copper and silver, given the town’s history in mining these minerals.

The highway to Jerome
Jerome, Arizona

The neatest part about the town is that it is on the side of a mountain with all of the houses built out over the slope. The highway up to the town is narrow and windy, so it had my wife grasping the dash board the whole way up. Once up at the town, we found a place to park and went to eat lunch at the restaurant. There are spectacular views of the whole area below. I remembered staying with my wife at the Ghost City Inn Bed and Breakfast several years ago and looking out the window there from our room over the expanse.

Looking down from Jerome

From Jerome we continued up the old highway through Oak Creek Canyon, which has some of the most beautiful scenery in Arizona. Along the way we stopped in Sedona and went shopping at a few of the shops. We remembered being at a bed and breakfast in Northern California a few years before and listening to a New Agey-couple talking about Sedona and how you could feel the vortexes rising up from the rocks. We didn’t see any vortexes, but did get some nice pictures of red rocks along the way.

Sites along the road to Sedona
Bell Rock, near Sedona, AZ

After Sedona we continued up the road and up in elevation towards Flagstaff, AZ. we then reached a destination I was eager to share with my kids: Slide Rock. Slide Rock is a natural area where the creek flows through a series of rocks that have some algae growing on them. The result is a series of slides where the you can sit down and the water would push you downstream.

I was a little disappointed when we got there in that what had been just an open area that anyone could enjoy when I was growing up had become a park property with a $20 day use fee. Since it was around 5 PM by the time we got there, we would only have an hour or two to enjoy the area before sundown, so the $20 felt like a rip-off. Still, we had come all of that way and decided to go ahead and feel the pain to show the area to the kids.

The park service had added some nice amenities like a bath house, which allowed us to change out of our wet bathing suits at the end of the stop. (We were a little disappointed in that they were trying to close the bathrooms early, so we had to fight a bit to get time to change.) They also had constructed a homestead and some landscaping that would have been typical of houses in the area a hundred years before. If I were living in the wilderness, being in a place like Slide Rock would have been great.

Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon
Sliding in Slide Rock

During college, my wife and several of her friends had a different adventure at Slide Rock. She went with her female friends and couple of guys that they knew. While they were there, my wife (girlfriend at the time) looked over to see her friends sunbathing topless on a rock. She didn’t join them and was a bit shocked by the scene.

After the sun went down we headed on up Oak Creek Canyon and finally arrived in Flagstaff and went to our motel for the night. We went to Granny’s Closet for dinner (my wife went to college in Flagstaff, so we knew the area well). After dinner, I went to a local store Walgreen’s and bought some water bottles, since we were going to be hiking into the Grand Canyon the next day and had forgotten to bring any from home. I bought some really cheap ones, expecting to throw them away after the day, but somehow they made it into our suitcases and are in our cabinet today, never used since that trip.

Oak Creek Canyon Views

The Grand Canyon

We got up early the next morning and headed north to the Canyon. The plan was to do a bit of easy hiking in the morning and then some site seeing along the rim during the afternoon. My wife had been to the Canyon several times, but had never been below the rim. I had been all the way to the river and back (in one day) during a high school Ranger team trip. Our children who were about 10 and 7 had never been to the Canyon.

We parked in one of the large parking lots and then proceeded to visit the gift shop. One of the books I leafed through was Death in the Canyon, which details the many deaths that have occurred at the Grand Canyon. Many were things like being swept away by the river or backing up too much when taking a picture, but there were some incidents like defiant children who simply ran over the edge when their parents told them to stay back. After reading up and my mind being filled with death and worry, we went to the trail.

I saw on a map the Ooh Aah point was about two miles down the South Kaibab trail, which seemed like a reasonable hike for us. We parked near the South Kaibab trailhead and headed down. Walking down was fairly easy, although my wife was a bit worried about losing her footing on the sloped trail. We made good progress, however, and after about an hour made it down to Ooh AAh point and took some pictures. I looked down at the trail below, and of course it was tempting to continue on since it seemed like it was just a little bit further, but we were sensible and started back up.

The trail down from the top
Photo by Produtora Midtrack on Pexels.com
The way down from Ooh Aah Point
Trail to the river from Ooh Aah Point
Another Ooh Aah view

Now, even though it wasn’t particularly hot (it was in the high 70s or 80s) since we were at high altitude on the rim of the Canyon, it was very dry and the sun was intense, making you dry out quickly. All of us were drinking water regularly, except my daughter who declared that she was not going to drink water. My son and I tried to explain that she needed to drink water to avoid dehydration, but she insisted that she wouldn’t. I started having pictures of her passing out on the way up and wondered if I’d be strong enough to carry her back up to the rim. Luckily, she changed her mind with a little prodding, drank some water, and was able to make it back up to the rim.

Heading back up, enjoying the limited shade, drinking water!

From there, we went in to the café to have lunch. Then, we went on a park bus out to Herman’s Rest. We saw that area, then went out to the second to the last bus stop, where we heard it was a great place to see the sunset. We sat there, looking out over the canyon as the sun set and the canyon came alive with colors. After it had sufficiently set, we got up and gathered with the crowd who were also there to wait for our bus.

Hermit’s Rest
Sun setting from the Canyon rim
Sunset over the Canyon
The river from the rim at sunset

That’s where we realized our mistake. Because the buses went out to the end of the line and loaded up before heading back, and because everyone who went out to see the sunset was heading back at the same time, we needed to wait for a few buses until there was enough space that we could get on one. One we did get on a bus, it was standing room only. So, we stood up for more than a half hour as the bus slowly made its way back to the visitor’s center and unloaded.

At that point is was absolutely pitch black. There were absolutely no street lamps in the parking lot and no ambient light at all. As we wandered the huge parking lot in total blackness except for the car lights as people drove away, I kept thinking that there was a canyon somewhere around there somewhere and wondered if I would be one of the deaths in the canyon, having wandered over the edge, looking for my car. Finally, we found the car and headed back to Flagstaff.

Kingman, Lake Havasu City, and the trip to LA

Sign at London Bridge

The next day, after having breakfast at the Little America coffee shop, we headed out towards Kingman, Arizona on Highway 66, then went Southwest to Lake Havasu City. I’d been to Lake Havasu about fifteen years before, having ridden my bike there from Phoenix. It is a pretty place right on the lake formed from the Colorado river but it is also really, really hot with temperatures routinely reaching 115 deg F or more each summer. It is frequently the hot spot for the country, swapping the title with Bull Head City several miles down the river.

This day was no different than normal. We drove through town from north to south, watching the wavering of the air that happens when really hot air rises off of the asphalt. There we turned into the parking lot for the London Bridge Village.

First sighting of Lake Havasu

You’ll remember the nursery rhyme about London Bridge falling down. Apparently this was actually the case. Well, hearing that this was happening, the town of Lake Havasu decided to buy it. London bridge was transported from London, stone by stone, and reassembled over the lake at a fairly narrow spot. The rumor is that the town folk of Lake Havasu thought they were buying the Tower Bridge from London, an iconic structure, and were disappointed when the London Bridge showed up, much as it is. Still, the town made the best of it, set it up, and then created a little shopping area around it, complete with a little hedge maze. Luckily the maze isn’t too large as many would probably perish inside after getting lost in the 120 degree heat.

London Bridge

So, we walked across the bridge between Arizona and California, took a few pictures, then headed down a set of steps under the bridge to go into a few shops. We were absolutely the only people anywhere around, the temperature being in the high one-teens and it being very close to noon. Right then, a lady appeared from one of the doors and gave us a sales pitch for a timeshare in Lake Havasu City!

We were nice enough, but we were all thinking that right in the middle of summer, right in the middle of the day, right there on the hot sidewalk was not the time or place to be trying to convince people to come back every year. Perhaps if she had gone to a marina where people were coming back from a day on the lake or to one of the beaches around she would have found some interest, but I couldn’t imagine anyone seeing the place on that day and thinking, “Wow, I really want to get a timeshare here.” I’m sure that in January when it is 70 degrees and sunny there they get lots of interest, but not in the middle of summer.

On to Anaheim

From lake Havasu City we headed through Kingman AZ to Anaheim, CA. I’d driven across the Mojave desert many times as a young adult and rode across as a passenger in my parent’s car, but this time the distances and remoteness were intimidating. Often there were spans of 20 to 40 miles with absolutely nothing, only interrupted at the end by a small gas station with maybe a restaurant attached. I thought about what it would be like to break down out there and walk a day or more in the 110 degree heat to get to anything. Luckily this didn’t happen and we made it to LA and into Anaheim.

The next day we got up bright and early, trying to get to Disneyland when they opened. We had a hotel about five or six blocks away, so we were able to walk to the entrance. Of course, we had to walk all the way through the Disney Marketplace to get the the entrance. We stopped in the Disnew General Store where my wife found some potholders she liked, but figured she could buy them somewhere else in the park and didn’t want to carry them all day, so she left them there. Somewhere along the way my daughter got some $30 Mickey princess ears that she wore for the day.

Jungle Cruise Ride
Minnie Ears
Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney Land

We spent the day and evening in the park. For dinner we ate at some sort of Mickey Italian restaurant and I got a $15 plate of spaghetti. we then started looking for the potholders my wife liked, but couldn’t find them anywhere. Finally around midnight the park was closing, so we were heading back to the hotel. It was then that my wife discovered that the Disney Marketplace was open until 1 AM and that if we hurried, we could get back to the General Store and get the potholders. The store was, of course, all the way at the end of the marketplace.

We walked all the way down. Along the way we were seeing that a lot of the stores were closed. I was hoping that we’d missed the opportunity and could just go back to the hotel and save $30. No such luck. Some cast members indicated that the store was open. Sure enough, the General Store was about the only thing open at this time we finally made it down there. So we went in, shopped for what seemed an hour, and then left at about 1 AM with the pot holders. We then trudged all the way through the Disney market, back up the five or six blocks to our hotel, and got in around 1:30 AM.

Around 3 AM I woke up and emptied the contents of my stomach into the toilet. I was so sick. I thought maybe it was food poisoning from the Mickey spaghetti, but it may also have been dehydration and exhaustion. We ended up staying in the motel until about 10 AM when I finally felt better enough to drive.

To be continued….

A Night in Yosemite

by Joseph Sheeley

Back in the late 1990s I was a week away from moving out of California to a new job across the country. My wife and I had never been to Yosemite Park and decided now was the time while it was only four hours away. We would regularly camp in the Sierra Nevadas, so we decided to camp for this late September trip.

I called to reserve a campsite, but found all of those in the valley were taken. I found one at Toulumne Meadows, which is at more than 8500 feet elevation. It was a little distance from the valley, but I thought we could spend the day seeing the sights in the valley and then set up camp for the night.

Brandon Goldman/Getty Images

That weekend we loaded up the car and drove out to Yosemite, arriving a little before lunch time. Unfortunately, it was wet and drizzly the whole day. There were low clouds, covering all of the rock features like Half Dome. We were able to see things like the river and one of the waterfalls coming off a ridge, but everything else was covered in clouds. We ate lunch at a dining area near the falls, tried to stop at the general store in the valley but found it was too crowded to park, so we drove out and up to Toulumne Meadows.

We got to the campsite about an hour before sundown and setup my old two-man tent. For dinner we planned to eat out, which ended up being going to a food trailer and buying some hotdogs. After selling us our food they were close for the season. We would have gone to bed hungry if we’d been a little later.

Speaking of food, we’d been warned about the bears before we got there. Because they’ve been fed for so long, the bears will actually break into your car if you leave any food, toothpaste, or anything else that has a scent. Mother bears actually teach their cubs how to break into cars, destroying the cars in minutes. Everything had to go into special bear boxes. They let us know that even if you don’t see them, the bears were always watching and waiting.

Photo by Photo Collections on Pexels.com

That night there was a ranger lead campfire program. Everything was wet and cold, so we weren’t starting a campfire, so we were glad to sit by one made with some dry wood the rangers had stored. There we met many of the campers, discovering that we were the only ones in a tent. Everyone else had a camper.

That night we discovered why. It was the first snow of the season. By 1 AM there were several inches on the top of our tent and I needed to knock it off the roof to remove the sag. My wife had taken my zero-degree Marmont Mountain down sleeping bag and I was using her cheap summer bag. As I listened to the generators of the campers around us, I wondered if I’d freeze that night.

The next morning, we awoke to a winter wonderland. Everything was covered in snow. The park ranger said that late September wasn’t unusual for the first snow even though it took us totally by surprise. The memories of the cold night before disappeared as I walked around the beautiful area, glad that I got to see the first snow of the 1999-2000 season in the high Sierras.

I’ve probably been camping over 100 times and spent 150 nights or so out in the backcountry. There were a lot of times when the weather was absolutely beautiful, but I don’t remember much from those trips. They all sort of blend together. The ones I remember most are the ones like the Yosemite trip when we got blanketed in snow. Another memory is when a severe thunderstorm rolled through on Good Friday that produced hail on us and a tornado about 50 miles away. Don’t let worries about the weather keep you home. Be ready for the weather, whatever it is, and go anyway. Some of the best memories come under dark skies.

Gearing up for camping

(Note, as an Amazon Associate I earn money from qualifying purchases. This costs you nothing extra and is the way that we at Telling History are repaid for our hard work, bringing you this great content.  Don’t see something you want? Just go to Amazon through one of the links and then buy something else and we’ll also get a small commission. It is a win-win for both of us!)

I thought I’d talk about some of the gear I use for camping. If you’re getting out of the RV, you’ll need the right gear to be comfortable. Here’s some of the stuff I use.

Marmont sleeping bags:

The down sleeping bag I have is from the 1980’s but still works great today. They cost a lot, but will also last your lifetime. They’ll also make you comfortable even when it drops below freezing outside of your tent.

Marmot Lithium

Wood burning stoves:

Most of the time I use a propane stove like the first one below or a liquid fuel stove, but the little wood burners like the second one shown are nice because you can fuel them with the little twigs you can find everywhere, even in the most picked-over campgrounds. My only dig is that they only burn for fifteen or twenty minutes, then you need to add wood and light them again (with a lot of blowing). They burn long enough to boil a couple of cups of water or cook a quick meal, but stop right about the time a larger pot of water is ready to boil.

MSR PocketRocket Ultralight Backpacking, Camping, and Travel Stove, PR 2: Ultra Compact Camping Stove Ohuhu Stainless Steel Backpacking Stove Portable Wood Burning Stoves for Picnic BBQ Camp Hiking with Grill Grid

Thermarest Ground Pads:

Whenever you’re camping in a tent, you need a ground pad. Not only does this little bit of air and material soften the ground a little, but it more importantly puts insulation between you and the ground. Without this you’ll be cold as the ground sucks out your heat. Thermarest is a great brand of ground pads.

Therm-a-Rest Trail Scout Self-Inflating Foam Camping Mat, WingLock Valve, Regular – 20 x 72 Inches

Kelty Tents:

A high-quality tent, if you dry it out when you get home and keep it clean, will last you for a decade or more. Spend a little more for a tent and it will last longer and be easier to use. Kelty makes great tents in the $150-$300 range. Always get a tent that is one person larger than the number of people you’ll have using it so that you’ll have a little room for gear. Note it will typically require one less people than the size of the tent to set up, so you’ll need at least three to setup a four-man tent, for example.

Kelty Late Start Backpacking Tent – 2 Person (2019 Model)

My Twelve Days as a Wikipedia Editor

I was a Wikipedia editor, for twelve days.

This summer I decided to try my hand as an editor on Wikipedia. This is the “Free Encyclopedia” that can be edited by anyone. Well, anyone but me, apparently.

It all started well. I signed up for an account, chose a nom de plum, and then visited a page for a topic I knew: My hometown. The article I read was sloppy and poorly written. There was so much that needed to be added. So I set to work, adding details about the people and places around town. This was going to be a great article and a tribute to the place I call home. When I finished, I hit “publish changes,” added a comment on what I had edited, and then hit “Publish.”

Bang! There it was, right there on the screen for all the world to see. The details that I had added were right there in black and white. Happy with my changes, I left my computer and headed into the other room to watch some TV.

Then I came back a couple of hours later only to discover that all of the content I had added was gone. Erased. Wiped from history.

I went to the “Talk” page, which is where editors can discuss articles and changes they are making. I found a comment that unsupported information had been removed. My information. Apparently all information needs to be referenced to a newspaper article or other “secondary source.”

I wrote a comment of my own. Why was my information removed? Now I’ve wasted an hour of my time. How am I supposed to add information when nothing has been published? Our town newspaper, which is about the only possible source of information, gets most things wrong. I’m a reliable source of information because I lived there. And why would I lie about things like what the parks are named and where the high school is located?

Apparently the Wikipedia world is smaller than one might think and my brief tirade would come back to haunt me -more to come. I also learned that Wikipedia doesn’t like editors to create material or do their own analysis. They call that “point of view,” or “POV” in buzzy, arcane, Wikipedia speak. They want editors to find a source for everything and then just write what they wrote, but not in the same words since that would be plagiarism. OK, I could do that.

I found a list of famous people from our town (defined as someone with a Wikipedia page) I added one that was missing from the list, linking to an article about him from the local universities website. This time, success! The change remained and was not challenged. At least not yet. One of the references I used, LinkedIn, was challenged and removed. I guess your resume is not considered reliable. OK, some people lie on their resumes, I guess.

Next, I started to edit a page on a radio personality. I had listened him for about 15 years, so I knew all about him. I figured that this would be the perfect place for me to help out. I was an expert. I thought it would be great to add information on what his show was like, link to some of his best audio, and add all sorts of information only a regular listenter would know about.

And speaking of sources, what would be a better source than the actual broadcasts themselves? I could talk about some of the shows and then link to the audio clips to actually let the reader listen to them! What better proof do you need of authenticity? The reader could actually listen to what was said by the man himself.

Well, apparently to Wikipedia, the broadcasts themselves are not good sources. One needs to find a newspaper or news show to do a report on the show or the actor, then reference that. Just because the reader can actually go and listen themselves and verify what is written matches what was actually said is not good enough. Even someone’s own words aren’t a good enough proof of what they said. If the New York Times doesn’t report it, it didn’t happen.

The newspapers can also make things up and it becomes truth. If a reporter in an article flippantly includes the line, “He was a real jerk,” then I can write in Wikipedia that he was a real jerk. In case you haven’t noticed, reporters will often throw in a line or two in an article that appears to be their viewpoint without referencing any source. When they do this, it becomes truth, according to Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia secondary source criteria gives traditional media entities way too much control over history. It gives the ability for a few huge media outlets that qualify as “credible sources” by Wikipedia to create Orwellian memory holes, deleting history they don’t want remembered and even changing or inventing history through their articles. That’s not a good system.

That’s why we started Telling History. We wanted a place where people can tell their stories in their own words. We wanted all of the stories that get lost because they didn’t make the papers.

So, what happened on Wikipedia? Well, one new editor came in and called the individual a “climate change denier.” I questioned whether that was a proper term to use, given that it was obviously created to make people think of Holocaust deniers and thereby think of those who don’t believe climate change is a proven theory as bad people. Well, that created a firestorm, causing the Wikipedia guardian editors to go to their friends, the administrators, saying I was a “disruptive editor.” My earlier tirade was also brought up (they save and link to everything, building up a dossier on you as they go). I was given an “indefinite ban.” I can edit my personal Talk page, as a way to plead my case should I want to be reinstated, but that’s it.

So, here I am at Telling History, where I’m in control. During my 11 days at Wikipedia I spent several hours of my time and did produce some quality work that is still there. I even found a source that the editor that had me banned commented was good work in finding. They can have their world and live in their echo chamber. I’m here to present the other side. The 95% of things that they miss.

So, if you’ve got a great story, write it up and send it in. If we think it’s interesting, we’ll feature it here. Wikipedia can have all of the second person accounts. We want the story straight from the source.

Hey there! If you’d like to help offset our web hosting costs and you’ve got a cat or several, please consider buying Pretty Litter through the link below (just click on the image). You’ll get a great smelling house and a light litter box that you only need to change out once per month and we’ll get a few dollars for a referral fee. Win Win!

Camping with Accident Man

by Joseph Sheeley

During college in the 1990’s my girlfriend then, now wife and I would go camping about four or five times per year during the summers. It started in Arizona when we were still just dating. There I would drive up from Tucson where I was going to school to her school in Flagstaff, car loaded with camping gear, then we would go camp at a place near Flagstaff. Because it was well over 7000 feet elevation up there, it was a good 20 to 30 degrees colder than in Tucson, so the weather was beautiful in the summers with days in the 70s and maybe low 80s. It was even a touch on the cold side at nights sometimes.

For grad school we were in California and started camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which were about three or four hours from our apartment in the Bay Area. I would get a topo map of an area and look for areas on forest roads in National Forests where it looked relatively flat and ideally close to a little creek or some sort of water. These forest roads were small dirt roads used for logging and forest maintenance. Once we found a few good candidate spots, we would then drive out there, go down the road, and look for a spot with enough cleared area to park and set up camp. Often it would be 9 or 10 o’clock at night when we would finally get out there, having fought traffic to get out of town after work. So, it could be quite an adventure, driving around, trying to find a spot in the dark until about midnight. One time we ended up setting up in a spot for the night just because it was getting late, then moving to another spot down the road in the morning. There were usually a few people camped somewhere near us, but everyone was really spread out so you didn’t feel like you were crowded in at all. There was also plenty of wood for the fire, which you never found at a regular campsite.

After we found a good camping place, we would remember where it was and return. There was one spot near Boards Crossing Road that had a tiny stream running through it. We used it to cool some melons we brought with us.

We would sometimes bring friends along, especially a friend named John and his girlfriend, Rita. They had never been camping, so this was a new experience for them. I would give them my tent and my wife and I would sleep in our Ford Explorer for these trips with them.

Now, I had an enormous survival knife that I would take along. It was sharpened on both sides and had a large saw blade. I’ve had it since high school and numerous people have cut themselves on it (including my father the day I got it). It came to the point where I started to think the knife was cursed. (I also cut myself on it, but that was usually when I was trying to juggle it.)

On our second trip together, it was just John, his girlfriend, and I camping the first night. We had a third friend coming the second day and I needed to go to the highway (about 10 miles away) and find a payphone to call him and tell him where to find us. As I was leaving, he asked if he could use the survival knife while I was gone. I said, “Sure,” but warned him about all the problems I had had with it. He said, ” No problem,” or something similar, so I drove off and made the call.

I returned an hour later to find him with a bandage wrapped around his hand. He explained that he was just pulling my survival knife out of the case and cut his thumb on the back of the knife near the hilt. He remembered that I’d said the knife was sharp, but didn’t realize it was sharpened on the backside too. That was the first of several accidents for that day.

After we’d sat around camp for a while, we decided to drive back to the road and to a little store. We got back in my Explorer and headed out. About a mile from our camp the road crossed a little creek and there was a little waterfall area on the uphill side of the road. John asked if we could stop there and check it out.

After we had been there for about three minutes, John wanted to get his picture with his girlfriend on a big rock in the middle of the creek. They stood there and I took a picture with my digital camera (Maybe it was a film camera. This was way before smart phones).

After I took the first picture, John saw a second rock out on the stream. ” Get a picture of me jumping to that rock,” he said. I wasn’t sure how he was going to get back from the rock, but I agreed, he jumped, and I took the picture. Once he got there, he realized his predicament, looked at another, tall rock further across the stream, and tried to leap to it and hang on.

He fell in the water, which was about 8 inches deep, got pushed downstream a few feet by the current, then got up, soaking wet and without his glasses. We searched for them in vain – they were never to be found, at least by us. This was accident number two for the trip.

Luckily, I happened to have a bathing suit in the car, which he borrowed and we headed for the store. Once there we looked around, bought a few things for the campout, then went back to the Explorer. As I started to drive off, John shouted to stop the car. He jumped out and danced around. Lifting up the bottom of his (my) swimsuit, a wasp came flying out. This was accident number three.

We had been listening to the They Might Be Giants Song, Particle Man, on the way up. We decided at this point that his name should be “Accident Man,” and sang about him to the tune of Particle Man. This nickname stuck with him for many years.

That was the last accident for that trip. Javier, our friend, arrived with his girlfriend that evening and built a huge fire that put our fire from the previous night to shame. Each time that you could get within about five feet of it, Javier would declare that the fire was dying and throw more wood on it. Another inside joke from that campout, the “Javier Fire,” emerged.

We all camped together several more times while we were in school. Accident Man got better, only having one other accident that I remember on a campout. In that case, he was breaking a limb with his foot wearing sandals and a jagged piece of wood from one of the ends went into his foot. We got to find the clinic in a small mountain town nearby after that one.

John and I both still camp to this day. I’m glad that I was able to teach a friend how to do something from which he continues to get so much enjoyment. I’ll always look back fondly to my days camping with Accident Man and the good times we had.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Playing at Carnegie Hall

by Joseph Sheeley

In high school I got a very unique opportunity. I was playing bass in the Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestra, a region-wide orchestra with members in 9-12th grade, and we were invited to play in Carnegie Hall in New York City. This is the story of the preparations and that trip.

The PSG Youth Orchestra was sponsored by the Phoenix Symphony. To be a member, you needed to audition and do well. Most of the members would also make the regional and all-state orchestras. It would practice weekly, then play performances around Phoenix. Some of the ones I most remember were an outdoor concert at a local wild west themed park, Rawhide, and the Musical Memories concerts, where we would play four concerts, one after another, in the Civic auditorium downtown for groups of school kids bussed in from all over the Phoenix area.

We even got to have the resident conductor for the Phoenix Symphony, Anthony Sedaris, as our conductor. He was fairly young at the time but just had the feel of “big city,” like Chicago or New York, about him. He was passionate and expected your best, but he was also funny and personable. We were very lucky to have him.

After he had been there a couple of years, he told us he had a big announcement: We had been chosen among a select group of youth orchestras to play at Carnegie Hall. He had applied for us and we had been chosen. We were going to be making the trip the next year.

Of course, once word got out, people from all over who had not been in youth orchestra suddenly wanted to join. Auditions the next year were tough and some people who had been in the orchestra the previous years didn’t make it. There was even a couple of teens who drove 100 miles from Payson, AZ down to Phoenix every week for rehearsals to join. I actually did fairly well, getting placed in second seat for the basses. The person who got first chair was a dark-haired girl I had never met before. The guy who had usually occupied that seat was in third seat. Apparently I’d had a good audition!

The next year we started working on music for the concert. One of the pieces I remember was Hoe Down from Rodeo by Aaron Copeland, which was a fun piece with a lot of musical gimmicks. Another was a piece that we had to rent. We couldn’t make copies of the rental piece and were warned that if anyone damaged, wrote on and couldn’t erase, or lost any of the music it would cost $20 per copy. We were worried. One night the librarian for the orchestra, who kept all of the sheet music, accidently drove off and left a box of extra parts on top of her car. Luckily someone from the orchestra saw this and got the box after it had fallen off. That could have been a disaster!

As we got close to the trip, a local news station came to film us during practice. Apparently they were going to report on us while we were in New York as well. During one of their newscasts they repeated an old joke our conductor had told us:

A young man was walking lost through New York carrying a violin. He asked a man he saw on the street, “Excuse me, sir, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The old man turned to him and said with a smile, ” Practice, practice, practice.”

We did a concert at the high school where we would practice that copied the program we were doing in New York City for our parents the week before we left. It went well.

New York Here We Come

We flew from Arizona to New York. We crammed instruments into every space in the plane. We were renting bases in New York because it was too much trouble to get hard cases and take them on the plane, so all we had was our music with us on the plane. I remember flying over the city and just seeing lights go forever. We flew into Newark, NJ.

It was a mad crush of people at the baggage claim. I put down the small bag I was using to carry my music on the plane while I looked for my bag. Later at the hotel I would realize that I never picked it up and had left my music at the airport. I called the airport to see if they had it somewhere, but no luck. Good thing I didn’t have the rental music in there.

This was 1988 when things were scary in NYC, and Newark made New York look tame. We boarded a bus from the airport in the darkness and silently rode into the city. When we got to our hotel, the New York Penta, not to be confused with the Plaza, we went up to our rooms, four to a room. The place was across the street from Madison Square Garden and wasn’t bad.

The first meal we had was across the street at a Sbarro. I had never heard of the restaurant chain at that point. I enjoyed a slice of pizza in this exotic place. It attached to the subway, as I learned when a man opened a door and walked out from the trains. Meals after that went downhill. We walked past Sbarro the next morning and went about a block away and upstairs into the deli. No one really liked the food, but then we found out that we had contracted with the deli to get most of our meals there. So, several times we had to walk past Sbarro,looking back longingly, and go to the deli. I think we got to eat at Sbarro one last time before we left.

The next evening we went to Carnegie Hall and watched a concert being performed by another high school group. They were pretty good. During the intermission I asked an usher if I should just give up my musical career, having done it all since I was going to play at Carnegie Hall. She said that I needed to come back solo.

Afterwards we started the walk back to our hotel, passing through Times Square on the way. Walking back it was me, two girls, and one of the moms who was chaperoning us. Along the street there was a mentally ill guy who grabbed a man in front of us who was wearing a huge, puffy jacket. The guy in the jacket just turned around and stared at his assailant who turned and continued on his way. The chaperone cowered behind me while all of this was happening for protection. It was strange for me as a 15 year-old to be seen as a protector for an adult who was normally the one looking out for us. Suddenly I’d gone from a high school kid to a guardian on the streets of New York. In a separate incident, a guy through a brick through the window of a car as we passed, then stared at us as if to say, “What are you going to do about it?” There was also a group of girls from another group who said they had been mugged outside of our hotel. I never felt in danger, but maybe I should have.

At Carnegie Hall

The second or third day we had a practice at Carnegie Hall. I remember going into the building and into what I remember as a basement with a big concrete floor below the stage. There we found our rental bases and tried them out. We then went up to the stage and had about an hour to rehearse.

Looking out is was really beautiful. There was a main floor, then a balcony that wrapped most of the way around with big pillars that ran from floor to ceiling. There were boxes that went right over the left and right sides of the stage. Everything was white and gold, very ornate. Our conductor commented that the acoustics were so good, someone could be whispering on stage and a person way out at the back of the auditorium could hear. The hall had the big ring-back after sudden stops in the music where the echo would come back to you a split second after you finished that great halls do. It was neat to get to play rehearsal there since you can’t hear the ring back once the audience is there to dampen the sounds.

Between getting the instruments and the rehearsal, we had a few minutes so a few of us went outside. I saw an older gentleman walking by, so I decided to walk up to him and ask, “Excuse me sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” He was about ready to walk by and ignore me as I imagine most New Yorkers do, but then the absurdity of the question sank in and he couldn’t help but answer. “It’s right here!,” he said with a thick Brooklyn drawl.

The Concert

The concert was the next night. That morning, we had a rehearsal at the hotel that the news crew attended and filmed. Back at home in Phoenix, our families were able to see our progress on the news each night. That afternoon, we took a charter bus over to Carnegie hall in our black tuxedos with our instruments.

I remember a few years later, sitting at a doughnut shop in Tucson at about 2 AM, talking to a teacher from a master class in a bass symposium. He talked about how with music, it is all fleeting. You can play a great concert, but a day later, people would already be starting to forget. By a week later, they would probably just remember that it was good. After a year, it will have been forgotten.

Unfortunately that night was something like that. I remember it went really well. When we played Hoe Down, there was a lady in one of the boxes that laughed when we hit a funny portion and there was a break in the music. Also, while we were playing the rental piece, a couple of friends of mine who played cello dropped the music and it tore when they tried to pick it up. I also remember at the end we got a standing ovation that seemed to go on forever. The news reporter mentioned this as she did her report outside of the hall after the concert. It was magical.

That night we went on a cruise around the Statue of Liberty and had dancing and food. I met a girl from one of the other groups and we danced and hung out most of the night, but then just said goodbye at the end of the night. I probably got to bed around 1 or 2 AM.

After flying back to Phoenix, we all got a copy of a video with our concert from right before we left. It also contained the news broadcasts from the trip. We also each got a picture of the orchestra during the concert in Carnegie Hall, showing a person standing during the standing ovation. I had each member of the orchestra sign the back. To this day I still have the picture hanging in my bedroom.

The Phoenix Symphony Guild Youth Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, Spring of 1987

My sister saw the picture on the wall a few months later and asked about it. She was surprised when my parents told her it was me in Carnegie Hall since she didn’t know anything about the trip. Apparently we didn’t talk much as a family….

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Bike Rides

by Joseph Sheeley

From the time that I was in first grade, I would walk to school. Elementary school, which was grades 1-4, was about half a mile away, across a street and a parking lot, across a major street at a light, and then up a hill about a quarter mile to the school. Both of my parents worked, so I would get home about an hour before my mom and let myself in. For some reason rather than giving me a key, we had one hidden inside a bag of cat food just inside the back door that I could reach through the gate bars.

One I got to fifth grade, the middle school was about 2 miles away, so I started riding my bike. I would mainly ride on the sidewalk and lock up my bike in a fenced-in gravel lot under some grapefruit trees. Here I got used to riding a couple of miles each way per day. I also would ride to friends’ houses and just around the neighborhood.

One day a friend and I were at the school in the evening and discovered that we could get airborne on a berm between one part of the playground and a field. We took turns jumping the berm for the next hour or so, then I rode home. The next day, I was riding to school when the top bar on my bike snapped. I walked the bike home and got a ride to school.

We took the bike to the bike shop and explained that I was “just riding along” when the bar broke. They all laughed, then handed me a biking book that had a list of definitions. It had “just riding along,” or JRA, as a term used by those committing warranty fraud. Well, I was just riding along when the bar snapped….

We bought the first of several mountain bikes from them that day. The shop even had a trail ride they would lead. I went on this ride the next Saturday. They were much more advanced than I was so I only went on one or two rides with them after the first ride, but from the experience I learned where the local trails were and started mountain biking regularly. I even started racing in high school which lasted through early college.

One day I was out riding with a friend and we ended up going a few miles from my house. On the way back, he had us take the canal. It was then that I discovered that the canal was a great way to ride. In one five mile section there was a concrete path, but even where there was no path, the banks were flat, smooth dirt roads that didn’t have many ruts or rocks. These were perfect for a mountain bike or even a road bike with the right tires.

This is when I started doing longer rides, using the canal as a path since I could avoid most of the traffic, only needing to cross a road every half mile or so. From our house I could ride downstream about 15 miles to the end, way out near Sun City and the other retirement communities West of Phoenix.

The canal ended unceremoniously in a farmer’s field with an electric fence that gave me a shock a couple of times until I figured out what it was. The other way upstream would go about 40 miles all the way to Saguaro lake. I never made it that far although I tried a couple of times. The last 20 miles or so were out on the Indian reservation where there was nowhere to stop for water or anything.

The canal also allowed me to get to a lot of places in Phoenix. There was one place where a smaller canal, The Crosscut Canal, branched off. If you took that, then about a mile of road you could end up at the zoo. I did this several times one summer. I also figured out how to get to my grandmother’s house way out in Sun City. Going upstream would end up at a park way out in Scottsdale. You could get to the mall at Metrocenter going downstream just a half mile off of the canal. (Unfortunately, we usually ended up there early in the morning since we’d start riding around 6 AM to avoid the heat, so the stores were closed.)

Riding on the canal, I got used to doing longer rides of 30 to 40 miles. Once I was used to this, I started entering different chatity rides that would normally have rides of different lengths ranging from 25 to 100 miles with courses laid out around the city. There I learned the fun of riding in a pack where you could draft off others in the group and go faster than you could alone.

One weekend when I was about twelve I went with a friend from Phoenix to Wickenburg, a town about 50 miles out from Phoenix and probably 60 or 70 miles from our starting point. We went when it was fairly hot and I remember stopping along the way out for my friend to sit under a palo verde tree and cool off as he started to get heat exhaustion. We made it, however, stayed in a motel for the night, then rode back the next day. This trip made me realize I liked highway biking.

Shortly after that I signed up for the Best Dam Ride, which was a two-day charity ride for the Multiple Sclerosis Society that went from northwest Phoenix out to Parker Dam on the Arizona/California border with a brief trip into California in the end of the ride. It left from the Sun City area early in the morning and had lunch in Wickenburg, only about 35 miles out from where we started. It then went all the way out to Salome, AZ, for the night. I still remember that it was 85 miles that first day. This was a tiny town in the desert. We stayed at the high school, sleeping in the gym. The town was small enough to have pictures off all of the graduates for the last several years on the wall of the gym. Our sleeping bags and clothes were brought out separately in a truck.

That night we ate spaghetti and watched American Flyers in the gym. The high school cheerleaders even came out and did a cheer for us. It was really neat. We then settled down on the gym floor to sleep around 10 PM, the getting up and heading out around 7 AM after a quick breakfast.

The second day started with a long, slow hill climb and then a fast, 30 mph descent into a town of population 3. From there it was a long, flat ride until you descended down a long hill into Parker, AZ. I’ll always remember seeing Parker and the exhilliration of riding down that long hill. From there it was about 20 miles to the end of the ride at Parker Dam. We had the choice of being on the Arizona or California side, and went on the latter. It was neat to have ridden out of the state!

The day ended at a park at the dam. There was food and music to celebrate the end of the ride. From there our bikes were loaded up on trucks and we climbed into busses to be driven back to Phoenix.

I did that ride a couple more times, including with my high school bike club one year. I also started going out by myself when I was 14 and 15, this time extending the original ride to go into Kingman to Ash Fork, then through Prescott and back down to Phoenix. Those rides involved 100 mile plus days and climbs of 3000 feet or more. My longest day was Kingman to Ash Fork, leaving at 4AM and getting in at 6 PM, 110 miles away and 350o feet higher than where I started.

Looking back it was odd that my parents let me be way out there on my own, just calling them each day as I made it to the next town and new motel. Because I didn’t have a credit card my dad gave me a couple hundred dollars in traveller’s checks for food and prepaid for motels. To me the biggest danger was running out of water. I was able to go about 40 miles on the four bottles I carried, so I only needed to fill up a couple of times. Usually there was a town within 10 to 15 miles. An exception was between Parker and Lake Havasu City where the temperature could get up to 120 deg F and it was 37 miles of ups and downs throught the canyons around the Colorado River.

I rode less after learned to drive. I did rely on a bike during the first year of college in Tucson, including for 10 mile trips to the mall. I also did the Breakaway to the Border, a 2-day MS ride from Tucson to Douglas, AZ on the US-Mexico border.

I don’t ride too often and haven’t done more than 5 miles for several years. I do still have the mountain bike I had in high school, however, which is the one I put thousands of miles on back then. Looking back, biking has been a huge part of my life. Maybe it’s time to start again, now that the kids are grown.

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High School JROTC- Rifle Team

by Joseph Sheeley

This continues the story on my experience in JROTC. The first article is here. Today I’ll tell about the Rifle Team.

The first team I joined in JROTC was Rifle Team. Before joining I had never handled or shot a rifle before, so this was an all new experience. We used .22 rim fired target rifles and shot at targets that contained 12 targets on a 11 x 8.5 inch sheet of paper. The two targets in the center were for siting in the rifle, then you’d shoot one shot each at the ten targets around the edge. The targets were up to 10 points each, so your total score for each position was 100 points. We would shoot prone, kneeling, and standing each time, so your score was out of 300 possible points.

When I joined there were about ten cadets on the team. The captain was a junior, and there were a couple of other juniors on the team, including a female friend of my sister who was one of the best shots at the team. (During the time I was there I found that the best shots were normally girls.)

We would practice once per week. We would load up the rifles after school into a white Chevy Bronco and drive to a school on the south side of town where they had a ten lane indoor range. Note that when loading we were carrying rifles across campus with boxes of ammunition, which seems bizarre given today’s standards where even a tiny pocket knife could get you suspended. We never had any issue, however. No one would even think about loading a rifle until at the range and just about to fire.

On the way to practice we would stop at McDonald’s. We always got food to go and you’d need to get it fast or the instructor, First Sergeant, would pretend he was going to drive off and slowly pull away while you chased with your bags. Another memory is that the team captain would get four waters, which they’d send in a cup holder, then spend the rest of the drive flicking water at those in the back seat until First Sergeant told him to knock it off. We’d eat on the way to the range, which was probably 30 minutes away from our school.

During practice would normally go through a full competition, which was siting in in prone, then ten targets in prone, ten in kneeling, and ten standing, or “off-hand.” I’d normally go in order, but one could go in any order one chose. One had an hour to shoot all 30 targets plus site the rifle. You would use a telescope or binoculars to see where you were hitting when siting in and sometimes while you shot. First Sergeant would normally sit in an area behind us separated by glass and either watch with a telescope or do other things while he waited for us to finish.

We would score our targets right afterwards while cleaning up or on the way back. The 8 point ring was a little smaller than a dime and we shot from 50 feet. The ten was a dot smaller than a period. The round would just fit within the eight ring and if it were fully inside it was a “10x” that could be used to break ties.

Prone was easiest since you had most of your body supported to keep you steady, then kneeling, then standing. In prone if you were good you never scored a seven or lower and had few eights. I became very good at kneeling and would score 80 to 85 regularly. In standing, because you’d sway, seventy plus was good. Once in a while it all locked in and I’d hit a ten standing, but it was rare. I knew when I fired that I did. Scoring over 200 such as a 90 in prone, 70 in kneeling, and 70 in standing would put you near the top for the team and the district. A 250 might win for top overall score. There were also trophies for highest on each position, so if you were a great prone shooter or decent in kneeling or standing you could clean up.

We would have competitions among the district, covering the greater Phoenix area, and also a state competition. All were held at the range at which we would practice. These would have trophies for each position and then overall individual trophies and team trophies. We would usually do very well in the district and win a couple trophies in the state.

We also did two out-of-state competitions while I was there. The first was a trip to San Diego. We drove (it was about an 8-hour drive.) One of the boys had a Beastie Boys “Licensed to Ill” cassette tape that we wore out during the trip. I also had a Back to the Future soundtrack cassette plus some mix tapes that I played on my Walkman during the trip. A couple of times I got to play Sammy Hagar on the car cassette player.

We participated in a national competition at one of the Navy bases in San Diego. At that meet there were two girls who scored in the 290s. We didn’t stay for the awards ceremony. On the way back we went to Sea World and Disneyland. The other trip was to the New Mexico Military Academy. We similarly didn’t place but had fun on the road trip to the competition.

By my Junior year I had become Captain of the team, a role in which I stayed through my senior year. I eventually was shooting in the low 90s for prone and mid 80s for kneeling. Standing was between the 50s and the 70s.

In the next article I’ll tell about our Instructors.

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Remembering The Phil Valentine Show

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

by Joseph Sheeley, FOP

I listened to the Phil Valentine Show from the time he started broadcasting at WTN in Nashville in 2004. When he started he replaced the G. Gordon Liddy show in midday. Later he transitioned to the afternoon drive time.

The Phil Valentine Show featured Phil Valentine (aka Uncle Phil) and his long-time producer, Johnny B. (Nee, John Bozeman). The show was primarily devoted to politics, but also featured comedy, imitations and paradies. There was also the sound engineer, the “Round Mound of Sound” and others Valentine referred to as his “vast staff.” The Round Mound was later replaced by Luther, but whether Luther ever existed and how many were actually in the vast staff was unknown.

Unlike other hosts who would talk over or cut off those who disagreed with him, Valentine would listen attentively then question and provide counter arguments. In general the only time Valentine became upset and raised his voice is when someone accused him of being racist, which he would vehemently deny. Some of the callers would raise their’s during a call, but Valentine would generally let them talk unless they became too belligerent. Several former liberals called during the show to let him know he had changed their minds and converted them over to conservatism with his logical approach. He referred to this as “healing a liberal” and created a theme song for such conversions.

Valentine had several “Philisms” that he would say during the show, including “Extry good,” “Tell them Phil Valentine said, ‘hey,'” “dirt people,” and “They might feel, uncomfortable. ” “Uncomfortable” in that last case would be said in unison with Johnny B.

A regular feature on the show was Dancing in the Booth, where Johnny B. would choose someone to be dancing while they played a song. This would happen several times on Fridays. The tradition started because an intern for the show started dancing during the bumper music for the show. Most people dancing in the booth were being mocked, but it could be a sign of honor.

One popular recurring bit on the show was Snowflake. Snowflake was a Vanderbilt student, played by and interviewed by Valentine, who was hiding in his dorm room because he couldn’t face the election of Donald Trump as President. The bit continued into Joe Biden’s Presidency and changed over time.

Another character on the show played by Valentine was the Asian dictator where Valentine would speak in a stereotypical Asian accent and call people “Yankee dog.” Valentine explained that the caricature wasn’t meant to represent all Asians, but just the Dictators like Chaiman Mau and Kim Jong-Il. He would also perform with an Antonio Banderas accent when talking about Alexandria Occasio-Cortez as a central American Socialist Dictator ala Venezuela. These bits also featured Spanish guitar music.

Global Warming or climate change was a frequent topic for the show. Valentine was a skeptic and frequently referred to the topic as “bovine skatology.” Valentine wrote, produced, and starred in a movie An Inconsistent Truth as a rebuttal to Al Gore’s film, An Inconvenient Truth. This movie featured Valentine’s car, Bennie the biodiesel for which Valentine was making his own fuel. Valentine frequently stated on the film that nothing Al Gore predicted in his movie such as the decline in polar bears or the complete loss of Artic ice happened. He also stated that he had interviews with climate scientists in his movie, where Al Gore had none. In the movie he attributed Gore’s push for climate change regulation to the large stake in carbon trading exchanges and green energy companies in which Valentine alleged Gore was an investor.

Valentine did several interviews during the show. Some of the most entertaining occurred during the Bush/Gore election where Hollywood stars were calling the show, trying to save Al Gore from losing his home state of Tennessee. Ron Reiner ended up hanging up on Valentine after being challenged on his views. Cher did complete the call. Valentine was cordial with both callers. He also interviewed Richard Dreyfuss at a DNC convention. During the Trump/Biden election Valentine claimed to know and have direct communications with Donald Trump Jr. and had him on for an interview one time.

Phil Valentine did a number of musical parodies. Some of his most popular were his Jessie Jackson “I Wanna Shake You Down,” Louis Farakan “Imagine” (there’s no white people), and “Elliot Spitzer.”

Valentine would sometimes create fake groups or singers. Around 2008 he created the group Chadwick Station, a British pop band that did beach music. Just before his death he created Roland Rivers, a country singer. Valentine created songs for the groups, websites, and even Twitter accounts. Before the Roland Rivers ” Time to Start Drinking” tour, Valentine did a set of fake interviews on the show with a gruff Rivers.

To see more of his work, visit philvalentine.com and PhilValentine.tv.

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High School JROTC – The Ranger Team

by Joseph Sheeley

Previously, our Army JROTC program at my high school was discussed. In this article, I’ll tell about the Ranger Team.

Our JROTC program had three teams, the Rifle Team, and Ranger Team, and the Drill Team. I was never an official member of the Drill Team, although I did compete in two competitions with them on short notice when a member had dropped out and they needed a replacement (more on that later). I joined the Rifle Team my freshman year, and the Ranger Team as a sophomore.

Of the teams, I considered the Ranger Team the best. I had never gotten to camp as a child. My father said once that if he got distracted and crashed the car one time that we would end up camping. After that we always joked that we were hoping that the car would crash so that we could “go camping.” Clearly he wasn’t the outdoorsy type, so I’d gone the first 15 years of my life without camping.

Ranger team camped, but not exactly. We’d go on what were called FTXes, which stood for “Field Training Exercises.” On these we would usually leave after school on a Friday, arrive late at night, set up in the dark, then spend Saturday and Sunday morning on activities before returning home Sunday afternoon.

We’d always return exhausted on Sundays because this wasn’t roasting smores around the campfire sort of activities. This was things like ten mile orienteering courses through the woods, up and down hills, punctuated with activities like practicing first aid, target shooting, rowing a raft across a lake, or rappelling down a cliff activities. Generally you were out doing something physical from 5 AM; when you would get woken up for calisthenics consisting of push-ups (really slow ones), jumping jacks, squats, sit-ups, and then a two or three mile run; until you were ready to get into your tent Saturday night after a full day and evening of activities. The only time that you were able to sit around a campfire was at 2 AM when you got woken up for your hour of fire watch. (Often there would be four or five “fire watchers” at 5 AM since people would decide to just stay up all night after their shift. We eventually had to establish a “no all-night fire watch” rule.)

Getting onto Ranger Team was not easy at all. It started out with a qualification day at the high school where you needed to do at least 45 sit-ups/minute and 45 push-ups/minute, do 10 pull-ups, do a long broad jump, and run three miles in less than 25 minutes. You would need to meet at least all but one of these requirements. If you succeeded, the next step was the Canal Walk. Here you started at a supermarket in the middle of Phoenix at 10 PM, then walked ten miles out on the banks of one of the canals, then walked all the way back and over to the Squaw Peak Park, getting there around 6 AM. We’d normally fall asleep for about 30 minutes on the concrete or in the dirt because we were so tired by that point. You then needed to climb up and down Squaw Peak, which was about 1.5 miles and 15oo feet each way, to complete the walk, getting done maybe around 8 AM.

If you succeeded there, you then on alternating years either do a hike up and down Mount Baldy in Easter Arizona, which is an 11,421 foot peak so named because it is above the tree line, or hike down the South Kaibab Trail to the river and back up the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. With Mount Baldy, because we started at our camp instead of driving tot he trail head, it was a 22 mile hike. Many people would get a headache once they got above 10,000 feet, making them grumpy until they got back below that level. The Canyon was 25 miles, starting from the early morning when you were freezing and lasting through the noon hours at the river when you were sweating like crazy, only to get back up to the rim around 8 PM, right after sunset when you were freezing again.

The uniform for the Ranger Team was the woodland camouflaged “battle dress uniform” (BDUs) of the Army with a camouflaged Marine hat, starched crisp so the points would stick out full and the black Army boots, shined so that you could see your face in them. Some cadets had a wide-brimmed “booney hat” that they would wear when out in the field. You’d stick an ace of spades in it to be cool (I put a Joker in mine). You’d bring your backpacks with your gear in on Friday morning before an FTX and wear your BDUs all day at school. You would bring knives for the FTX and there got to be a competition to have the longest knife. I won with a ten-inch survival knife that would hang off my side like a sword, sharpened on both sides with a saw blade on one side. Note we brought these to school and left them in our packs in the JROTC building and never had any issues. Things were really different back then.

On the FTXes, we would have the National Guard support us by bringing out a deuce-and-half truck with a water buffalos on back for transportation and water. We would ride in the back of the deuce-and-half, which had only a canvas cover so it would get really dusty in the air when we took many of the long dirt roads to one of our campsites. Often on Saturday night we would play what we called “escape and evasion,” and sometimes the guard members would join us since they didn’t have anything else to do but sit around for the weekend.

In escape and evasion, two teams would separate and form a base, then the other team would try to sneak in and steal your flag and get back to their base without getting caught. If you got caught, you’d sit near the capturing team’s fire until the game was over. I don’t remember anyone actually succeeding at doing this, but it was a lot of fun. You would often go out for miles in the dark, doing as quietly as you could as you got near the other camp, just moving a foot a minute or so on the ground. One of the most successful tries was when one of the older cadets just came stomping into base, acting like he was directed to do so. He nearly got away with it, but one of the guardsmen caught on and tagged him out.

When you got back on Sunday evening, you were often so sore that you could barely walk out of the truck. I often feel like that now since I’m older after a long hike, but this was back when I was a teenager and bullet proof. But the Ranger attitude was always that you could do anything and nothing mattered. If you were driving out to the campsite and someone asked how far you were, the answer was always “ten more miles.” On a 20 mile hike, the answer was always “ten more steps.” You were on the Ranger Team, so you could do anything.

That’s probably the biggest thing I learned in Rangers was that your attitude is everything. If you had a bad attitude, you were miserable even on a five mile hike. If you just decided that it just didn’t matter, however, you could do twenty five miles and have a good time doing it. I also learned that you make the closest friends under adversity. When you go through things together, you become closer. I still remember seeing one of my best friends, who was the XO while I was Battalion Commander, head off from our all night senior lock-in to real Ranger School ( but first basic training and airborne school).

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High School JROTC

by Joseph Sheeley

When I was in high school in the late 1980s, I joined the Army JROTC program. Unlike ROTC in college, many if not most of the people in JROTC would never enlist in the military. But the program offered leadership training, a taste of what the military was like, and unique activities not found elsewhere. It was these activities that interested me the most.

The main program was a class taught during one of your periods during the day. We would learn about things like leadership, hygiene, military history, and how to properly wear a uniform. There was some class time, but most of the time was spent in learning by doing.

We spent a good deal of time drilling, where we would learn to march as a group. The first step was to learn to be spaced by extending your arm and nudging your neighbor until he of she was one arm length out. After that we learned how to all start on our left foot, the various commands to start, “Forward, march,” to stop, ” Halt,” and to turn left and right. Turning was one of the most complicated maneuvers and we practiced it a lot.

We would use our marching skills at the Veteran’s Day parade each year. There we would march as companies in the parade. The course was about a mile long.

Another activity was marksmanship. We would set up targets and practice shooting with pellet rifles. Normally we would shoot into pellet traps, but one time we used the hay bales the archery team used at the base of their targets. My sister, who was on the archery team, wasn’t happy about the lead pellets that would damage their arrows in the hay.

Another big part of the program was formation day. This happened weekly on Wednesday mornings from about 7 AM until 7:45. Here we would all come to school in uniform and assemble in a large area in platoons and companies.

We would form, present the flag, then give out awards and promotions. From there we’d have announcements and then dismiss. The battalion commander would preside over it all, with his staff in front, then the companies, Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie assembled with two platoons each behind. The whole event was fully student run as was much of the program. Afterwards we’d spend the day in uniform, which was the Army uniform with special JROTC ranks and patches.

The cadets were organized into squads, which were part of platoons, then companies, then the battalion. Students were assigned positions, with freshman in squad leader roles, then older freshmen or sophomores m0ving up to platoon leader, and so on. Students were chosen by merit for these positions largely by the two instructors.

There were also staff positions, including the S1 who was responsible for issuing orders, which were normally awards and promotions, then S2 through S4. ( I really don’t remember what the S2 and S3 did.) The S4 was the supply lead who kept track of equipment and ordered ribbons and ranks. For more information about JROTC organization, go here.

I was a dedicated participant, always showing up with my uniform spotless and my shoes and brass elements well shined. I moved up quickly, becoming squad leader within a couple of months and the platoon leader by my sophomore year. I was hoping to then become company commander, but actually went over to the staff as S1 for a year, then up to Company Commander of Bravo Company. By my senior year, I was Battalion Commander. About midway through the year I was moved on up into an advisory role to let my XO take a turn at Battalion Commander.

Probably the times that I remember most were my time as an S1 and time as a Battalion Commander. The S1 was in charge of “orders,” which for our battalion normally meant promotions and awards (ribbons). A good friend of mine, Alan, was the S4, who was in charge of supplies. Each week the two instructors would give us a list of cadets who had earned promotions or awards, I would type up the orders in the computer, print them out on a dot matrix printer, and then give a copy to the Alan. He would order them from somewhere, then they would show up about two days later.

Now, our formation day was Wednesday, meaning that we would need the awards and ranks by Tuesday afternoon at the latest. I knew that it took a couple of days to receive them, so the latest we could order them was Friday afternoon. I would prefer to send them out by Thursday afternoon or even Wednesday. Still, I would frequently get requests on Monday morning or something, which would put a lot of stress on me because I knew they wouldn’t arrive in time. I guess I hadn’t learned the expression yet that “Your poor planning is not my emergency.”

The summer before I became Battalion Commander, the retired colonel who was in charge of all of the JROTC programs for the city invited us to his place for a retreat. I remember that a big issue he mentioned was the forming of cliques, which he said hurt morale. Trying to do a good job, I spent that summer writing up policies. One of these was the avoidance of cliques.

I posted my policy on the bulletin board. Within a day, I heard complaints from some of the students. “What do you mean we can’t hang out with our friends? Anyone can join us.” I gave up on the policy within a week or so.

In the next entry, I’ll start telling about the special teams, starting with the Ranger Team.

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