My Training in the Great Outdoors
Hello everyone, I am Michael. If a person is going to blog about the great outdoors, he had better have some experience in the subject. To start my many future blogs about the beauty and hazards of the wilderness, I will give a little background about myself to show my humble qualifications to write on such a general topic.
First of all, I am Texan. Ok, that's it enough said, correct?
Kidding, I did grow up in Texas though, spent my summers and some school weekends or holidays exploring this vast state with my dad and his friends. Whether it was hunting during the proper seasons, fishing any water hole big enough to get a hook wet, or just camping around a fire looking at stars, listening to the old guys tell stories, my outdoor experiences started young. I must admit, lots of learning the hard way, and though I am now 40 years old, I still bear a few scars from my youth. When I finally entered high school, and my dad gave me his car, my new found freedom opened the door to new adventures.
I know you are thinking, "spoiled brat, his dad gave him a car." Guys, he gave it to me because no one else would buy it. It was a 1986 Nissan 200sx. I got it in 1996, and it was very rusted; it had a four-cylinder that I am pretty sure had a miss in one and low compression in the other, but hey, it got me where I needed to go, and the ladies didn't care what kind of wheels I had they just liked that I had a set.
While in high school, I rode bulls and worked as a busboy at a local cafeteria. My sophomore year, I had gotten promoted to working on the serving line, and shortly after that ended up in the kitchen working as a baker. What does this have to with my experience in the great outdoors? I now had cash to blow on stuff like a tent, sleeping bags, fishing poles, tackle, oh, and most importantly, GAS! Oh, this will ruffle the feathers of some of my younger readers; my sophomore year fuel was only $0.90 a gallon. However, the minimum wage was also only $4.15 per hour, so it broke even. With some jingle in my jeans and an excellent co-Ed group of friends, hiking, camping, and fishing trips became a common occurrence when everyone's work schedule allowed. Sometimes I would go off solo, head off somewhere, and spend a weekend on my own, letting Mother Nature tell me her secrets and show me there is more to life than work.
After high school, I began working as a plumber; I worked a lot of hours but also got paid quite well. With better pay and my own place, I could purchase better gear and go on bigger adventures. I would use long weekends or vacation time to head off to some new-to-me location and let the fresh air cleanse my soul. I rarely received much time off working as a plumber; however, I had many older gentlemen as coworkers, and they would help plan my next endeavor. These years took me to places in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Colorado, and some unique areas right here in Texas.
In 2007 life took me on another crazy turn. I joined the United States Army as an Infantryman, 11C for those curious types. Now 27 years old, I realized quickly soldiering is a young man's work, and surprisingly 27 wasn't considered a young man. I persevered through basic training where it became apparent the camping I had been doing wasn't quite "roughing it" as I thought. Oh, and all that "hiking" I had been doing, haha yeah, no longer as impressed with myself as I had been. It wouldn't end there in Fort Benning, Georgia; no, the Army had much more in store for me. I received orders for my first duty station, Fort Drum, NY. For those unfamiliar, allow me to educate you on the joys of what is known as the "North Country." Located an hour north of Syracuse, there was still snow under the trees when I arrived in mid-May, and the unit I became assigned to had a polar bear as their mascot. It became painfully clear long and cold winters lay ahead.
Fort Drum, New York is home to the 10th Mountain Light Infantry Division. It boasts a rich history of mountain combat and extreme cold weather survival. Sounds pretty awesome, right? When watching it on television, it is, but when actually training to be those elite soldiers, it's miserable. I received my first lesson in cold-weather training in January of 2008. It was a clear early morning about 0500, 5:00 A.M, and a crisp -20 degrees. The unit loaded up our rucksacks with half a house, climbed into the back of a personnel carrier, and drove out to a training site. The trucks' backs were not covered or heated, leaving me to believe I would die of hypothermia before ever getting to participate in the upcoming field training exercise. It was at this moment I sent up a most unusual prayer, "God, please have my deployment be to Iraq." We conducted maneuvers for two weeks, working on drills ranging from linear ambushes to urban and mountain warfare. My company commander bestowed some resounding words to me that I have never forgotten, "McGarrey, if you think you're good at something, try it in waist-deep snow; only then will you be able to call yourself a master."
God would grant me my wish; less than a month later, I would receive orders to deploy to Iraq. I had received my baptism in ice; it was now time to receive it in the fire. I imagine God sitting up in heaven, hearing my request, and laughing hysterically. While Fort Drum regularly plummeted to -40 degree weather, Iraq tipped the scales at a blistering 125 degrees. For an entire year, I slept under the stars of the Iraq desert; surviving sand storms and watching for camel spiders were as important as keeping an eye out for hostiles.
I would return from Iraq with a new experience in desert survival and a change of duty station. I was going to the 101st Airborne Division, located in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. While with the mighty Screaming Eagles, I would have many more training events that would further add to my outdoor living experience. Through rain and snow, rarely do I recall training in nice weather. Sleeping to the sound of rain hitting my poncho tent became such normalcy that when it stopped raining, I would wake concerned I may have died in my sleep. While with the 101st, I deployed to Afghanistan, hiking the Himalayas was now something I could mark off the bucket list. My travels through Afghanistan would offer opportunities to camp in the mountains, often at altitudes over 12,000 feet. I understand it was a war zone, but some of the mountains' views were truly breathtaking.
After returning from Afghanistan, I would bring my military carrier to an end. Eight years was enough, and now 35 years young, I wanted to get back to enjoying what was left of my youth. I returned home to Texas and began fly fishing. Often going up to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, and camping in Beavers Bend state park. I would fish until I had three good-sized trout, then head back to my primitive campsite and clean them up next to the water. I would find a nice flat, large rock, wash it off in the river and place it in my fire to use as a skillet. I would salt and pepper the trout, toss a couple of rosemary twigs and some lemon slices in its center, close it up and place them on the rock skin still on. If I have ever had a better meal, I am not certain when.
I still enjoy the outdoors but not as often as I would like, but now that I have begun this blog, I will endeavor to have more adventures to share.