There is a “Climate Change,” going on that is very subtle. I consistently have new readers getting a copy of Three Hundred Zeroes in Germany. What is a amazing here is that they're ordering more copies than the readers in the UK. English is ESL, or “English as a Second Language,” for them. I get occasional orders from places, such as, Italy, The Netherlands, and elsewhere, but the Germans are reading books in English.
In the summer of 2013, Jane and I wandered all over Europe, hitting 13 countries. We ran into folks from all over the globe, and it seemed that all of these globe trotters spoke at least some English. However, you could always count on the Germans to speak incredibly good English. A sign of fluency is being able to understand innuendo and humor, and they excelled at it. Is it their educational system? Is it just a desire to understand English? Why not Spanish? Better yet, most of them did understand other languages, but their English was excellent.
I'm seeing it in my reader audience. I'm envious, I keep thinking back to when I was a kid; how I wish my culture had encouraged me to become fluent in a second language, especially German. I ended up stationed in Germany for several years, during my military duty, and how I wish I had studied it before arriving there.
I knew absolutely NOTHING about any foreign language. When I flew into Germany, arriving at Frankfurt, I found my military bus to take me to my airbase. It was a school bus type vehicle. The driver was German, and there were no other passengers, just me. We hopped onto the Autobahn and drove the 150 km to Sembach AFB. As I rode along, I asked the driver about various things I was seeing along the way. It was my first time away from the USA.
I kept seeing signs along the Autobahn for a city named, “Ausfahrt.” This city was huge! I had been a ham radio operator for years and had talked with hundreds, if not thousands, of German hams over the years, but none had ever mentioned “Ausfahrt.” Not wanting to appear stupid, I resisted prodding the driver about Ausfahrt. Eventually, I couldn't stand it anymore and I asked, “Please, tell me, I've heard of Frankfurt, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, etc., but I've never heard of “Ausfahrt,” how can that be.” The driver couldn't help himself, he burst into laughter and when he was able to finally gain control, he informed me that “Ausfahrt,” means, “Exit.” I had been seeing the exit signs from the Autobahn and had no clue. I sat there dumbfounded and embarrassed. Then, to add insult to injury, the driver told me, “We have another large city named, “Einfahrt,” too. Enter!
I'm willing to be my German reader friends, visiting the USA, will never be surprised to see the city of “Exit,” along our Interstates.
I wrote this a few years ago. It actually came to me while I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. It is amazing the things that go through your mind when you're off on a very long walk in the woods. Who better to write your obituary than yourself?
I’m not going to live forever. Surprised? I hope not? I have some thoughts on what my self-delivered eulogy should say and I’m sharing them with you here today. I think it would be so appropriate if we could deliver our own eulogy, after all, who knows us better than ourselves? Of course we could record something and play it back, but that is so much like watching a re-run; I’d love to be able to do it “real-time!” Anyway, if I could talk to you from the other side, here is what I would say:
“I speculate the rumors of my death were not all that exaggerated this time? They had to get it right eventually. Hopefully I went quietly, I hate to think I made the front page of the National Enquirer: “Florida Man Killed Attempting Sex With 18 Foot Alligator…”
If I could sum my life up in a sentence it would read; “He lived for the moment, racing motorcycles, bicycles, hiking, a serious Ham Radio enthusiast, author, devoted Toastmaster, loved good food and helping others.” I tried to live by one rule; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
My family will go on. My family—that still sounds a bit odd to my ears. I never pictured myself married with a family. It is a concept that always seemed was for other people. I was never going to get married and in some ways, I never did. I’ve spent the majority of my life with my best friend, Jane. We have two wonderful kids and they’re merely an outgrowth of the love that the two of us have for each other.
We were never supposed to be able to have children and I had come to accept that. Then one night at our local Chinese restaurant I opened my fortune cookie and it said, "You'll be expecting a bundle of joy in August.” Jane had planted it there with the staff and was beaming at me across the table.
All these years later, she still beams. As we’ve grown together over the years we haven’t grown up. We seem to laugh more and suffer each other’s pranks more than ever; it’s what life is supposed to be. Years ago we made an agreement to love and cherish until death do we part; and that is what I’m addressing here; the “part” part.
I can envision a scenario where Jane goes to the local paper to write my obituary. Jane is very efficient and economical. When the ad rep tells her the fee for a submitted obituary is $1.00 per word she’ll pause, reflect, and then say, "Well, then, let it read, 'Dennis Blanchard died.' " "Sorry, ma'am, replies the editor," but I'm afraid there's a seven-word minimum on all submitted obituaries."
Flustered, Jane thinks for a minute and then instructs the ad rep to write,"Dennis Blanchard died. Selling used hiking gear..."
I want everyone to know that I never died — rather, I lived! Dying wasn’t a particularly frightening notion for me, its part of living and have I lived! Sometimes I’ve pondered: given the choice would I like to win a big lottery jackpot, or live life over…without a doubt I would do it again, it has been one hell of a ride! Money could never buy my wealth — memories of travels, accomplishments, failures, kids and the love of my life, there is no purchase of that; it is earned.
This is not a time for despair, this is a time for fond memories, stories about all the good times and food, yes, food! This is a celebration of a life and I loved any celebration that involved food. Good food is good comfort and that’s what is needed now. Put away the hankies grab a knife and fork and live for the moment; that would the best tribute I can think of.
Few things in life are game changers. Some of the more obvious ones are; a major illness, having children, becoming unemployed suddenly, from a long-term employment and so on.
Less obvious events can also be life changers, but they sneak up on you, such as: friendships, technology changes, an inheritance and so on. The Appalachian Trail was such a life-changer for me, I didn't see it coming.
When Jane, my long-suffering wife, convinced me I had to go hike it in 2007, I saw it as going off on a long hiking/camping trip. It was on my bucket list since the '60's, but I hadn't really acted on it. My brother and I had promised each other we would hike it together when we finished our military duty, but he was killed in Vietnam, so that never happened. As most of my readers know, I took his Purple Heart Medal with me on the trail and I'm convinced it is what motivated me to finish, in spite of a six-artery heart bypass operation.
The hike, the operation and the people along that marvelous trail were life-changers for me. I could feel the change, even before the hike ended. I felt different. I knew that I was going back to civilization a different man, and hopefully, a better one. I've spent most of my life as an electrical engineer, that changed, now I am an author. I only have one book published so far, Three Hundred Zeroes, but have two more in the works. Still, I'll always be an engineer at heart.
I wake each morning now with a smile. I know that, regardless of what the day holds, I will make the most of it, not complain and enjoy every minute—even when the going gets rough.
Modern technology gave me a new heart. They didn't replace it, but they did serious repairs on it. The medical profession made physical repairs to my system, but inadvertently, they gave me an opportunity to see the world in a new light, and that light shines brightly!
1. I was at the Rock Spring Hut, Virginia, on 12 June, 2008. Enoch, a thru-hiker, had relatives and a niece show up to walk with him for a few days. His cute four year old niece saw me as the “Chosen One,” a character from a fantasy book the family was reading her. Everybody saw that as a good laugh. She stuck to me like glue. She asked her Mom about where all these people that live in the woods go in the winter?
2. Going into my heart surgery, I was telling the fellow shaving my chest about a friend’s wife coming out of her surgery. The friend, and his wife, are both big movie fans and the Godfather is one of their favorites. He can quote every line in the movie. Coming out of surgery, the first thing she said to her husband was, “Where’s Michael?” After my heart surgery, when I was coming to, I asked my nurse, Michelle, “Where’s Michael?” I must have been still thinking about our earlier conversation, I wasn’t even aware I did it. Later, she reported back that she couldn’t find Michael and then I cracked up.
3. At Harpers Ferry, New York Minute (NYM), a thru-hiker, and I stayed in a nice hotel, a Quality Inn. I decided I was hungry and went outside, fired up my stove and cooked some cous cous. When I returned, NYM looked at me really strangely and asked why I didn’t use the microwave we had in the room. It never dawned on me! We had been out in the woods so long I had forgotten about electrical appliances.
4. When I left, Jane gave me a RoadID to put in my shoe. It is a metal tag that many bicyclists wear in case they fall off and are unconscious. I checked to see she had it stamped: “If lost, return to Jane?”
5. At the Abingdon Gap Shelter, just before Damascus, VA, a group of young people were lamenting the fact that they had been on the trail all week and hadn’t seen any wildlife. Standing immediately behind them was a large buck deer staring at them. All week long they had been tromping through the woods, making all sorts of noise. Groups never see much wild life. Here, they were sitting quietly and the deer walked right up behind them.
6. I had visions of creating a TV series like Dr. Who called “Hiker Who.” His adventures would center around going into a privy and “poof,” he would be transported instantly to another shelter in another time.
7. At the Montebello, VA hostel, I stayed there for the night. They’ve never had a single bear problem in all the years they’ve been in business. I got up to pee about 2 am. Something must have awakened me, but I didn’t know what. I looked out the window and didn't see anything in the moonlit yard. The next morning I found out a bear had been down in the parking lot below my window and had completely emptied the back of their pickup truck of all it’s trash. They knew it was a bear because the three empty canisters of whipped cream had all been crushed and the contents cleaned out.
8. Walking down the trail singing (at the top of my lungs), “I can’t help falling in love with you,” an old Elvis hit, I rounded the corner and here is this male hiker just crawling out of his tent. He’s in his shorts, five o’clock shadow, hair's a mess and he stands up, rubs his belly and looks at me like, “you gotta be kidding, not me fella'?”
9. Half-Elvis, a thru-hiker, found a National Geographic Map of Texas and hung it in the last shelter in Pennsylvania, the Kirkridge Shelter. He meticulously drew the A.T. crossing Texas, including shelter locations and a “You are here X.” I wonder how many were confused by that?
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the shack,
not a meter was stirring, not even on the rack;
The finals were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nick would tune them right there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of moonbounce danced in their heads;
and Mama with her handheld, and I with a trap,
had just settled our brains with a high voltage zap.
When out on the tower there rose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bench to see what was the matter.
away to the window I flew like a high tension flash,
tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
gave the glow of tubes of days long ago.
When what, to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh, with mobile amateur gear;
with a little old ham, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment, it must be Saint Nick.
More rapid than McElroy his keying it came,
and he listened and he tuned and called them by name:
"Now Dasher! Now Damper! Now Phasor and DX'en"
"On Common! On Coupled! On Doner and Blitzen!"
"To the top of the shack to the top of the wall"
"Now Dash away, Dash away, dash away all!"
As dry days before Field Day do fly,
when they meet with the forecast and never comply,
so up on the shack top the signals they flew,
with the sleigh full of gear, and St. Nickolas too.
and then in a band opening, I heard on the roof,
antenna work by a ham on the hoof.
As I drew in my head and was tuning around,
down the feedline came St. Nicholas with a bound.
He was all tangled in coax, from his head to his foot,
and his checksheets were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of gear he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a contester opening a six-pack;
His handheld - how it crackled! The signals did vary,
his equipment made noises, his QSO was quite merry.
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a Mho,
and the beard of his chin was white as slow scan snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a round little belly,
that shook when he laughed like the roll of a tele.
He was chubby and plump, a right old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had not QR-zed.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and tuned all the finals, then turned with a jerk,
and keying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the feedline he rose.
He sprang to his sleigh, his handheld gave a whistle,
and away they all flew, like the down on a thistle'
But I heard him exclaim 'Ere he faded out of sight'
"Happy Christmas to all
and to all
A good night!"
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.