Mr. Blanchard: 9-30-2013
I hope you aren't alarmed that you are receiving a letter from a man in prison. I just felt the need to write you. My name is XXXX XXXX and I am serving a couple of years for a poor choice I made during this tough economy. I regret that very much because I'm not with my wife. Anyway, the purpose of this letter is first to thank you for your book, “Three Hundred Zeroes.” I received it from family two months ago and have read it three times. I received the book because I have always expressed an interest in ham radio, and lately, hiking the AT. I now have both the Tech and General Class study books and hope to have my ticket shortly after my release.
Your book was truly inspirational and caused me to also set the goal of a thru-hike. My wife has been sending print out from trailjournals.com and supports me completely. I have some questions but I completely understand if you choose not to respond to this letter. I have also read an article by you in CQ about radio on the trail. At this point I'm curious what you feel about a person with a criminal past getting into ham radio and hiking the trail.
Anyway, I'll ask some of my questions and hope for a response. Again, please don't feel bad if you just can't bring yourself to respond. I would feel strange about it as well if I were in your position.
First, I'm very curious about your daily hygiene on the trail. How often did you bathe or shower and how did you do it without exposing yourself to the world? I can't find any info on what kind of food to take so I'm curious about that as well. What type of clothing did you take and how many of each item did you carry? Did you do laundry on the trail or only in town? If on the trail, then what did you use for laundry soap?
I feel like there are many more, but I know I'll be very blessed by a response to this letter at all. My wife has also sent me two different 2013 thru hike-hike guides, one of them being the one your recommend in your book. At this point I am commited to the goal fo a thru hike, knowing, that if I can do that, I can do anything.
Again, thank you for your book and article in CQ and I sincerely hope to hear from you.
Sorry about not keeping my wonderful readers up to date. So much has happened since my last posting in late August, it seems like a lifetime ago.
Jane and I covered 13 countries in all and since the last posting we were in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. Our original intention was to leave from Copenhagen, Denmark, by ship, on October first. Things progressed quicker than planned and we found we had a few weeks to kill before the ship sailed. Jane was anxious to return home and wanted to fly, I preferred the ship. Finally, it came down to a coin toss and I lost—we flew out of Amsterdam.
As many of my readers know, I've been working on a book about our hike of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I've decided to put it on the back burner because something much more urgent has come up.
My father, Ernest R. Blanchard, was in the 82nd Airborne Paratrooper Division in World War II. Unbeknownst to me, he has a story that needs to be told. He fought in North Africa, and then parachuted into Sicily, Italy, Normandy, France and then Nijmegen, Holland. Additionally, he was transported by truck to fight in the Battle of the Bulge at La Gleize, Belgium.
As we traveled around Europe, I learned so much about him and the battles he was involved in that I just had to tell his story. He would have been 100 years old this year, but passed away in 1983. He was the recipient of three Purple Heart Medals, the Silver Star, Bronze Star and a host of other medals. He never talked about it.
I started researching his story before I left on our five-and-a-half-month journey, but never realized what I was getting into. I knew that when he parachuted in Ste Mère Eglise he had landed in a tree, but the story was much more complex than that. He and another fellow, Pvt. Blankenship, both landed about the same time, Blankenship was killed immediately by machine gun fire coming from the church steeple. They couldn't see my father that well, and he managed to cut his parachute cords and drop 25 feet to the ground and got away, all the time carrying 85 pounds of equipment. Miraculously, he didn't get hurt or break his legs. He did cut off a good portion of his thumb when he cut the chute lines.
Of the fourteen men that jumped from his plane, only four lived through the night. The most famous of them was Pvt. John Steele, he ended up hanging from the church steeple. The town hangs a parachute and simulated paratrooper from the steeple each year in his honor. Another trooper, Sgt. John Ray, landed next to the church and a German soldier came around the corner and shot Ray in the stomach, and then turned to shoot both Steele, and another trooper hanging on the other end of the church, Pvt. Ken Russell. Before he could fire, Sgt. Ray managed to pull his pistol and shoot the German soldier. Ray then died. Russell cut his parachute lines and escaped and Steele was captured later.
I started researching this story in greater detail and discovered so much more about that night...too much to cover here. Let me just tell you that it is quite a story. While in Ste Mère Eglise we were looking through books that might turn up something about my father's story. Jane found a book, American Paratrooper Helmets, by Michel de Trez, that had a photo of my father's helmet on pgs. 106-107, plus photos of him that I had never seen before. The helmet was in a museum in La Gleize, Belgium, so once we finished our business in France, we headed for Belgium. We met with Michel, he runs the museum, December 44, and he invited us to have a look at the helmet and other items he had related to my father. National Belgian Television sent out a team to film the event and you can see a video of it on the web page: WhereDadDroppedIn.com. The book about my father is titled Where Dad Dropped In; An 82nd Airborne Troopers Story. The photo on the page shows my father just before they left for the drop in Normandy on D-Day.
There is so much more to tell, but this is already long enough. Check the book's web site often for more information as I add to it. I won't be able to post as often as I would like here (or there) since I really need to be writing the book. My plan is to have it ready for March, 2014. That will be the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and would be an appropriate time to have it ready. Stay tuned.
I'm writing this on a train, flying along from Newcastle, England, to Portsmouth, England. Jane and I just completed walking across the island from Bowness-on-Solway, on the west coast, to Newcastle, on the east coast via Hadrian's Wall. It is some 77, or 78, or 84 or 90 miles, depending on which literature one refers to. This has been a consistent problem with travel information, it never is accurate.
The guidebooks are notorious for this. We've purchased two on this current trip, both published by a reputable publisher, and both have bordered on useless. The maps have legends icons that are not defined anywhere in the book, maps that fail to show distances and extraneous information and landmarks.
The text in a guidebook, above all else, should do just that: guide. There is an entire paragraph in our Hadrians Wall guide that describes, in great detail, a pub/inn and then comments at the end of the description that the establishment is no longer in business! Really? Then why describe it?
Yesterday, we finished walking Hadrians Wall, a delightful experience exploring the Roman ruin that stretches all along the English/Scottish border. The wall was built by the Romans to defend England from Pict raiding parties from Scotland. The Romans were never able to “tame,” the Pict tribes and the wall was a measure to defend the Roman occupied territory. Recent evidence indicates that the wall may have been as much a tax collection barrier for commerce as it was a military defense.
The wall itself was quite an impressive structure; it varied in width from a few feet to up to 15 feet and in height from a few feet to as much as 15 feet. Every mile there was a Milecastle, a military post for troops, as well as turrets spaced in between. With signal towers and a connecting road, it made a formidable structure, only exceeded by the Great Wall, in China.
When we finished the walk yesterday, we had planned on an eight mile walk, it became a sixteen mile jaunt. Why? The guidebook map showed that the route “might” be eight miles, but had the distance missing on one page, and even the page that did have distances were not very exact. There was no one map that clearly showed any distance so it was difficult to fully realize how far we would walk.
Not all guidebooks are this poor. When I walked the Appalachian Trail, in 2007, I used the ALDHA guidebook, and it was almost flawless. There was no superfluous information. As much as I enjoy walking in Europe, I must say they need to improve the guidebooks.
Many of the Three Hundred Zeroes readers are radio amateurs (hams). The previous post describes my wanderings around Europe this summer. If you're a radio amateur, I'd want to invite you to try and connect with me while hiking/biking this summer.
Starting in early May, until possibly mid-October, I should be active on Morse code (CW) from Spain, Portugal, U.K., Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Holland and possibly Germany and Denmark. As yet, there are no firm plans, so many things can go wrong on a journey of this magnitude, so it wouldn't be wise to plan too precisely. If you're a ham over there, please do contact me, maybe we can meet along the way!
I will attempt to operate from each of those countries and as a rule will operate on the 40/30/20 meter bands. Most often, I will be found on the 40 meter band, that seems to be the most popular and reliable. I managed to work four stateside stations last time, and I didn't have that much time to actually operate, this time, I should have considerably more time.
Whenever possible, if I can find a WiFi connection, I will post my activity on the QRPspots.com site. This is a site that “Tweets” short messages about operator activity. Since I won't have a cell phone that works in Europe, I will have to hope I can find a WiFi connection so I can Tweet from my Kindle. I was fairly successful doing this in 2011, on the Spain tour, so it should work well again.
So, dust off the old Morse code key, keep an eye on QRPspots.com and I hope to hear you while out there.
I'm currently trying to finish up work on the next book, A Few More Zeroes: Lost with the wind and the stars on the Camino de Santiago. It has been a long time in coming. Authors should always work to make the next book better than the first, and that is the case here.
Life always manages to get in the way of any project, and this is no exception. There are already readers that have ordered a copy, and it isn't even in print (or Ebook yet!). Hopefully, this will change soon.
Here is what the future holds: Jane and I are heading off to Europe for a while. We're taking a “transition” cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Epic. It leaves Miami in late April, and arrives in Barcelona at the beginning of May. I see this as an 11 day period to finish up the work on the book and get it off to the editor. The editor will take the time necessary to work her magic and transform my scribblings into something enjoyable and legible.
Once the editing phase is completed, it is a matter of DAYS to take the completed manuscript and have it into print and on Ebooks. Such are the times. Not too long ago, in the traditional publishing world, that period of time could have been years. With POD (Print On Demand) Publishing, this is no longer the case.
Once we arrive in Spain, the cruise destination, we'll disembark with our bicycles at Barcelona. We plan to then ride the bikes from Barcelona to Logroño, Spain and then onto Santiago. In Santiago, we have arranged to store the bikes, and then take a train to Lisbon, Portugal. From there, we will walk back to Santiago, something like 400 miles. This is known as the Portuguese Camino.
From Santiago, we'll take the bikes to Santander, Spain, and a ferry to Portmouth, U.K. Plans get somewhat fuzzy beyond there. We plan to follow the wonderful bike routes in the U.K., known as the www.sustrans.com network. This network is a series of bicycle “superhighways,” and covers all of the U.K. We plan to ride up to Hadrians Wall and walk it. We'll then go back, get the bikes and possibly go over to Ireland for a while.
This is where things really get obscure. One of my ulterior motives is to research places my father visited during World War II. He was in the 82nd Airborne Paratrooper Division and the 101st and 505th airborne regiments. He saw action in five combat jumps: North Africa, Sicily, Italy, D-Day (Ste. Me're Eglise, Normandy, France) and Nijmegen, Holland. Additionally, he was trucked into Bastogne, Belgium for the Battle of the Bulge.
If you readers have ever read the book by Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day, or seen the movie, you may not have been aware of it, but my father played a part in that book. I was a young lad, when I recall Mr. Ryan coming to our home to interview my father for the book. My father would have been 100 years old this year, I figured I owe him a tribute for all he went through. I have other books that have photos of the tree he landed in during the D-Day invasion. He was hanging about 25 feet above the ground, with a Nazi machine gunner shooting at him. He cut his parachute cords and fell to the ground and they didn't hit him. In the panic, he did cut off the top of his thumb, but didn't even feel it.
He was also injured in Nijmegen, and due to that injury, he eventually met my mother, a nurse with the British Army. At Bastogne, he nearly froze to death.
It will be interesting to trace his steps and see what I can find. Maybe you'll enjoy reading his story? Hopefully, it won't take as long as the current work has. In his case, I do already have tons of material to work from. I'll guarantee, it is a very interesting story.
A few days ago, I received a problem report ticket from Amazon:
“Text in your book is unreadable for readers using black or sepia color schemes.”
It is a rather cryptic message and didn't give any details about solutions. It did give a link to the Kindle formatting page: Guide to Kindle Content Quality. The guide gave very little useful information about the issue.
Ultimately, I went off on an Internet search and eventually discovered that I wasn't alone, others had received emails such as mine, but there were no real solutions. The original problem, which wasn't readily apparent, is the newer Kindles, such as the Fire, can display the book with a black background with white text. Several authors took the attitude that viewing a document with white-on-black letters was so “80's.” I didn't exactly see this as a healthy attitude or solution to the problem. We authors can't always know the reasons our customers do things.
I originally wrote and published my book using Microsoft's Word. I no longer have Word, it proved too arcane and difficult to use, not to mention, expensive. I've since migrated to OpenOffice.org and their Writer tool. It is user friendly and offers all the same bells and whistles as MS Word, and is free! (they DO appreciate donations)
For reasons I won't go into here, when I first published Three Hundred Zeroes, I was able to upload the document to Amazon's Kindle site as a MS Word document. Recently, I had to make some changes to the document and decided to do all the work in HTML (a language used to write web sites). The tools I have are not very robust for such work, but I'm sufficiently comfortable with HTML at the source code level and can fix things where needed.
In January, I did an update of the Kindle version of the book, uploaded it to Amazon's KDP site (their Kindle interface) and thought I was done. Then came the email, I wasn't done, apparently.
I couldn't find a solution in any of the OpenOffice forums, so I posted my problem. Usually, within an hour or two, someone will respond with a solution. I waited. Nothing. I then decided that I had to dig in and find the problem. It occurred to me that the HTML for the book has various “styles” defined. The styles guide the electronic viewing equipment (computer, Ebook, Iphone, etc.) with instructions on how to display the information.
After diving into the HTML code I found that it did indeed have some CSS definitions, and in there, I did find a few that explicitly defined that the text should be “black,” using code #000000. Black text, on a black background means a black screen!
The definitions defined the basic text (P) and a few of the headers (H2, H3 and H4) as black. I fixed just the “P” (for paragraph) and loaded it back into my Kindle simulator. Sure enough, I was now able to read white text on a black screen for the paragraphs and the H1 headers. Problem solved!. I went back and fixed all of the parameters to use “automatic” colors, instead of “fixed” colors.
It has since been posted and updated on Amazon. If you already have a copy of the book, pester Amazon for the updated version (11 March, 2013.) They probably haven't sent out word about the fix yet, but if they get enough requests, they will.
Several technological areas collided to cause this problem. First of all, when I first wrote and published this book on Kindle, it wasn't capable of being displayed in this fashion. Since I originally posted it with MS Word, it probably would have worked in the newer units, since I didn't have CSS code defining colors. When I saved the file in OpenOffice as an HTML file, it wouldn't allow me to turn on the automatic color feature, which means, let the viewing device control color. In spite of all of this, I'm really surprised that the Kindle code doesn't inspect the CSS to see if there is a request for black print, on a black background. It should, and it should force the text to white under those conditions, that just stands to reason.
These technical devices we use these days are extremely complicated and I can only imagine that these sorts of problems will continue to crop up. They are designed by humans, and we're not infallible.
I'm often asked, “Which hike did you like better, the Camino de Santiago, Spain, or the Appalachian Trail?” Answering that question is like answering to which child you like better, you can't answer that.
They are both very different experiences. It is like comparing sailing on a private yacht, vs. a cruise ship. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
The private yacht offers, well, privacy and yet allows freedom to sail where you wish and follow your whims. Meals are quiet, and entertainment tends to be with a few other guests and solitary activities, such as watching videos, reading or maintaining the yacht.
The cruise ship on the other hand has a defined route and schedule. The ship is not very “private,” except for your cabin. There are group events, shows, huge dining areas and the experience is more like that of a floating city neighborhood.
The Camino is more like the private yacht. There is no well defined route to follow. We followed the most popular route, from St. Jean Pied du Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela, a wonderful 500 mile (800 km) walk through some of the most spectacular countryside in Europe. It is rife with castles, ancient villages, scenic vistas and culture. However, the route we took, known as the Camino Francés, is one of many and even it is not well defined.
I'm currently working on finishing my story of that hike and I find it striking how many times we were lost on this “route.” Unlike the A.T., it is not as well marked and many times we had to decide on which path to take, there were choices, some longer, some shorter.
The A.T., on the other hand, is a well defined, 2,176 mile (in 2008) path that is marked with white “blazes” and I never needed a map. Oddly, the A.T. wanders through woods, mountains, hills, and other places that would seem to make it difficult to follow, but it rarely was. The Camino, on the other hand, goes almost directly west, from one village, town or city, to the next and yet can perplex and confuse the hiker.
In the photo, the white blaze, on the left, was partially eaten by a bear, you can see the claw marks. Those blazes were distinguishable and clear for the entire length of the A.T., provided bears weren't eating them. The image on the right shows the yellow arrows used to mark the Camino. They were often vague, inconsistent and puzzling. Here, even the person painting the arrow wasn't certain and painted a question mark over the arrow!
Which did I like better? I loved them both! I can't pick a winner, they are both world class and deserve to stand alone. They're both my favorite children.