Category Archives: my life

Growth is hard and life on the road is filled with personal growth . We’re not afraid to put it out there. Stories of the things that effect us most.

4 siberian husky sled dogs in harness

Boys Night Out

snow covered meadowThe sun began to dip below the tree line as we came over the last hill into Government Meadows at 4800-ft elevation, where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses the Naches trail. Way back when off-road was all there was, the Naches trail saw wagon trains searching for a pass through the Cascades.  After working our way up hill for the last 11 miles, the meadow was a welcome site and meant we had reached our goal for the night.

In mid February the Naches trail is closed to off-road vehicles so the boys (Tundra, Glacier, Chinook and Juneau) and I left the rig behind at the snow park.  We hooked up the sled, filled it with a few essentials and headed out to see how the landscape is transform in the winter months. The day was beautiful with the sun warming our faces as we worked our way through the woods. Occasionally the winter silence was broken by the snow machines as they went by us making the hill climbs seem so easy. Always as they passed by, they would slow, wave and make sure we were ok. Every once in a while one would stop and snap a photo… I guess they don’t see a lot of sled dog teams in these parts.

government meadow ulrich cabin snowFor the boys, Government Meadows meant their work was done. It also meant it was time for me to start working; getting them feed, watered and bedded down for the night. After taking care of them, I still needed to unload the sled and get the my gear inside the cabin.  And the light was fading fast.

In the 90’s, a couple of very courageous and ambitious souls built a cabin known as “Camp Mike Urich” that looks out over Government Meadows. Despite the lack of support from the forest service or other government agency these guys found funding, permits, and a couple of swinging hammers to erect a wood floor, tin roof log cabin with a loft and a few small windows. I wouldn’t call the cabin spartan, but the furnishings consist of two long bench on either side of the room and a big old wood stove in the back. But as the mercury began to fall, the cabin was dry and it felt as comfortable as any room at the Four Seasons as I stood there out of the wind and blowing snow.

Inside the cabin, I unpacked my tea kettle and searched for matches as my breath hung in the cold air. Mountain travelers know how fickle the weather can be and generously share what they can with others. A previous visitor had taken the time to cut and split a pile of wood for those who would come after. In no time I had a fire going and the cabin began to thaw. Although a fire feels good, lifts your weary spirits and lights the darkness, it won’t boil water anytime soon. For that, I brought the little camp stove capable of more blast furnace rolling boil than dainty sauce simmering. In no time the water in the little tea kettle was a boil. Drop in a little bouillon cube and before long I’m sipping chicken broth followed by a little green tea, all the while my glasses are fogged-over with steam.

two lead sled dogs in harness siberian huskyCold winter nights are quiet, some times scary quiet, at least until the wind starts howling through the trees. But up in the solitude of the cabin loft, tucked inside my sleeping bag I enjoyed a few hands of Texas Holdem on my iPhone, warm, dry and extremely grateful for this oasis. By 8:00 p.m. I had run the virtual poker table, the fire was out and it was lights out.

I always worry about the boys and think they are warn out. The morning check -in found them barking and straining on the picket line ready to go. And even though I told them we would be leaving soon, their vocal desire to get started had me hustling to pack up and hit the trail.

2 red siberian husky sled dogs in harnessElven miles up hill means eleven mile down hill. The ride down the mountain matched the thrill of any Six Flags roller coaster. What took nearly eight hours on the way in. The ride out was over in less than two with me holding onto the sled with both hand and slamming on the break with my feet. The boys can fly when gravity is working in their favor.

Winter in the North West is spectacular but short. Before long the Naches trail will be open to off-road vehicles. Maybe there is a summer trail run to the cabin in our future.  Got the maps (Naches Lower West, Naches West, Naches East) and we could always go up and stack a little wood for the next guy.

fj cruiser tattoo sleeve

Cool Rigs, Big Tattoos and Smart Women

fj cruiser girl tattoo legsOne of my friends put it best when he said “who knew your (my) midlife crises could be so entertaining”.  And as everyone knows you can’t have a midlife crises without fast cars, younger women and cool tattoos.  So I’ve decided to come clean with everyone following along on this adventure…

It all began in November of 2008 when I walked into Madame Lazonga’s not really knowing what to do or what to expect. All I knew was I wanted to capture forever the feelings I experienced on the Arctic Ocean adventure with my dad.

I had walked by Madame Lazonga’s for years and would see Vyvyn’s name when ever magazine or news paper articles counted down the top tattoo artists in the country. The national awards that fill the wall speak volumes of the talented women who work the artist’s chairs of Madame Lozonga’s.  The choice seemed simple enough.

If you want to watch artists vibrate like a tuning fork and run for cover… walk into a tattoo shop, let them know you want your first tattoo but you don’t know what exactly it should be. Tell them not to worry though, you wrote a blog that has descriptions of everything and they just need to turn it all into a visual metaphor of the greatest adventure ever. Not exactly how the process works… Who knew.madame vyvyn lazonga

Turns out Jacqueline, Vyvyn’s protege, holds a masters degree in literature from Northern Michigan University. And it was Jacqueline who stepped up for the throw down.  Funny how things come together.  Looking back there is no one I would have rather taken this journey with than Jacqueline.  And while the original adventure lasted 19 days, this one took nearly a year.

I certainly didn’t know when I started this project that I would be calling Jacqueline and the other women at Madame Lazonga’s my friends. You learn a lot about people when you spend several hours with them every other week. And they learn a lot about you.  First and foremost I learned these women are smart, funny and incredibly talented. I’m glad I was lucky enough to be invited into their suicide girl

I also discovered these women have a unique relationship with their clients;  part nurse, part personal coach and part confessor.  It is amazing what people will say to the person they have entrusted with creation of their body art.  A little safety tip here: when you’re a guy in a room full of women waving needles in the air…  keep your mouth shut, listen and when asked, agree…  agree a lot.

Over time Jacqueline and I shared ideas and opinions on art, music, business and just about anything else that would keep my mind distracted.  Hearing her stories of growing up in Michigan reminded me of the time I spent in Lansing.  Discovering her tech background allowed me to share work stories knowing she could relate. I learned I’m not bothered by the pain as much when I watch and see it coming… Which made the knee pit a killer since unlike the exorcist, my head could not spin all the way around.  Although occasionally I thought it would.  Jacqueline was there to talk me off the ledge when she took the needle and ink to my knee pit, shin or ankle (worst).  I talked her down after she drew Hula Betty for the third time and it still didn’t feel quit right.  Did I mention I’m not visual and really bad at explaining what is in my head.  We collaborated, hung in there together and eventually ended up with a sleeve we are both proud of.

Then there is Ruby.  Ruby gives as good as she gets and has a sarcastic biting sense of humor, much like my favorite sister in-law.  Ruby never missed a chance to express her love for me by knocking me down a few rungs on the ego ladder.  Did I mention that relationships are born from pain.  Ruby taught me how the machines work, shared what she found rewarding in her art and definitely celebrated the diversity of others.

Susie, another artist, always checked on my progress as she came riding in on one of the cleanest Triumphs I’ve seen in a long time.  Following a day of dealing with tech guys and accountants, Susie’s take on life was refreshing.  And apparently, if you’re an artist at Madam Lozonga’s there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll marry a suicide girl fj cruiser

The newest addition to the crew at Madame Lazonga’s is Caitlin.  And if you think she is just another pretty face…  how about this for a resume: personal assistant, model and she is now starting a line of hip tee-shirts.  Must be something in the air under the Pikes Place Market that brings smart women altogether.

Many people say tattoos are addictive.  For me the addiction is the chance to spend time with friends who opened up an entirely different world to me.  One I will never forget…  What started out as a tribute to an adventure with my dad has transformed into so much more.  This sleeve will always remind me of my dad and the amazing women who helped me turn it into a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling.

And as for the tattoo.  Boy always tells me “Go big dad or go home”.  You can see  Jacqueline pulled together several big ideas to make one great sleeve:

  • rout map with some of my favorite stops including Dead Horse, Inuvik and Chicken
  • the rig that we lived in for 6,200 miles
  • Hula Betty herself (not just your average iconic dashboard bobble doll).

Because this piece took shape over 12 months, If you look closely at Hula Betty you’ll notice she is sporting a tattoo herself.  Remember the story of “Day 6 Blue Bunny“?  With that little blue bunny on her side, my son joined his grand father (my dad) in this generational adventure forever preserved in flesh and ink.

fj cruiser heart

To All FJ Lovers

Happy Hallmark Holiday

Those who know me, know that I hold fast in my belief that Valentine’s  Day was created by card and candy shops aiming to compensate for the business lull separating Christmas and Easter.  However, if nothing else Last Great Road Trip stands for diversity and the tolerance of the beliefs of others.

So on this Hallmark Holiday when we remember how much we depend on those we love, think how much more it will mean if you give an FJ Cruiser instead of a heart shaped box filled with assorted chocolates.

If anyone is interested, I like a good milk chocolate with a creamy nuget center on my off-road adventure.

white christmas ornaments

Who Dosen’t Love A Christmas Letter

This time of year brings out the writer in everyone…  Although some should put their pen down and leave writing to Hallmark.  Well, all those annual Christmas letters inspired Hula Betty to throw down this year’s Christmas Letter.


Greetings from the trailer park that is Kitsap County.

Another Christmas quickly approaches the Last Great Road Trip clan. This will be our most recent Christmas yet!

Dad continues on his mid-life crisis he calls the Last Great Road Trip. Dad has made a big move; relocating from his office to the family room!  The kids and Mom have been able to see his real job: publicizing his website for everyone and their Jewish grandmother to read.

Mom is still doing an adequate job at keeping things running smoothly. Between driving Boy everywhere his heart desires, to making macaroni and cheese for Hula Betty’s boyfriend (Dad still doesn’t acknowledge him), to putting up with the crazy shenanigans of Hula Betty’s friends, to listening to Hula Betty sing and dance, Mom still keeps the house looking good.

Boy is still having premature teenage rebellion. Boy doesn’t want an iPod and he doesn’t want an Xbox, Boy wants thousands of vinyl records from bands that no one’s ever heard of and all sound the same. You’ll most likely find Boy at a skate park or Value Village these days.

Last but certainly not in any way the least, Hula Betty has remained the golden child. Hula Betty now has a GPA of 3.9 and is starting to get interested in some colleges. Hula Betty’s favorite classes at school are AP Studio Art and Hip Hop 1, replacing PE and Lunch as favorites. Hula Betty’s AP Studio Art teacher said that Hula Betty is her favorite graphic designer and has the potential to make a lot of money doing that as a career, someone will have to keep Dad in gas money. Hip Hop 1 is a dance class after school where Hula Betty can release the inner black woman that is dying to be let out.

Aunt B. will be making her annually road trip up north, dodging bullets and junkies as she flees Granny’s holiday grip.  And if there isn’t enough sarcasm here already, Aunt J. may join the exodus and land on our doorstep with a beer in hear hand and a sharp dig flying off her tongue.

This will be the best  holiday season of this year and as the snow falls, Last Great Road Trip wishes you and your family a happy holiday and great new year.

mercedes broken grill

Bad Car-ma Day

Sitting at a four way stop and Blam! Right in front of me two cars demonstrate my favorite law of physics with both of them trying to occupy the same intersection space at the same time. No injuries, just enough of an accident to scare the drivers and leave broken turn signal plastic all over the road.

After several minutes, it became clear they were not planning to move their vehicles as they looked around and sat back in their cars.  That is when it happened again Blam!  This time it was from my rig.  After making sure no one was hurt we pull off into the parking lot.

We won’t go into details, affixing blame is such an ugly game and my attorney has advised me to exercise my right to remain silent.  But I can tell you the other driver, we’ll call her Sally was not happy.  The rig…  you guessed it, no damage…  Sally’s Mercedes, well not so much.

Sally and I exchanged insurance information and all seemed amiable, that was until, her husband showed up.  We’ll call him Bob.  Bob started out polite enough, making sure no one was hurt and then took on a subtle change as he looked at me, the rig and the tattoo. I clearly matched the red neck, trailer trash profile in Bob’s mind, although the iPhone threw him.  As I said we had exchanged all the insurance information and Bob wanted more.  “Is there another phone number for you”, “Is that your home number”, “Let me see your driver’s license”,  “I think we should file a police report”.

The police were across the parking lot for the other accident, which until the officer arrived, still sat in the intersection.  Bob pulled the officer over to us and began the inquiry. The police officer explained no report was required since no one was hurt and we had exchanged information.  It was at that point Bob asked to have the officer take a report anyway, since he “didn’t know me”.  This meant we would all be hanging around for another hour.  After a little persuasion Bob backed down but not before hearing the story one more time and taking the officer’s picture.  If you ever want to raise an eyebrow, point a phone camera at a police officer and click away.  Not the way to win friends and influence people.

That would have been a cap to a bad day but as Bob and Sally left, the officer turned to me, smiled and said, “I’ve read your blog and that looked like a really cool trip”.  So we talked a few minutes about fishing at Haines, Alaska before the grizzly ran us off, work on the tattoo and a few other high points of the adventure.  Still having to go talk with the other accident folks, the police officer wished me well and I climbed back into the rig.

Accidents are never any fun and thank goodness no one was hurt.  In the middle of all this mess, finding someone who has read our Arctic Circle Adventure and enjoyed the stories, makes for a pretty cool silver lining.  Hats off to the great job the Poulsbo police force does everyday.  It has to be the most thankless job, somebody’s always mad at you for their mistake.

hands suturing

First Blood

With all the work and mods being done in preparation for the Arctic adventure, it was only a matter of time before one of us drew first blood. The first round goes to the rig with me ending up with some very manly stitches.

It began innocently enough. I was removing some of the plastic guard from under the wheel-well since it is no longer needed now that the stock bumper is gone. A simple little mod, just cut the plastic snaps connecting two pieces, fold back and zip tie it all up and out of the way. How tough can it be?

First, slide the box cutter between the two pieces, up against the snap. Next give the box cutter a quick pull across the snap cutting it in half, making sure not to apply to much force causing the knife to cut you… After I looked down at the 1/2 inch deep gash in my forearm it was easy to see that this was going to leave a scare.

Hustle inside, slide the forearm under cold running water to remove all that dirt out of there and hope the stinging and bleeding will stop. Turns out I should have been a surgeon. The cut was clean and straight. Missed the artery, but exposed it nicely so you could see the blood pumping though it and the layers of skin and fat that once surrounded the vessel. Realizing this might require two hands to bandage up and since the wife and kids are out, I started going door to door.

The great thing about where I live is that within two blocks you can find a physician of every specialty. In fact we can probably start our own HMO. Of course like a cop, there is never one around when you need one. I ended up at my neighbor the dentist, so he could put me back together in his kitchen.

In the end, I got a few manly stitches, went back and finished the little mod. The plastic is nice and tight protecting the paint from flying gravel and I have my first scar to remember this adventure to the Arctic Circle.

By the way: Turns out you really can get lock jaw from a rusty box cutter… so I’ll be getting a Tetanus shot soon.

highshool girls in photo booth

North Of Schizophrenic And South of Dysfunctional

A longtime ago I asked my lovely wife, Hula Betty, to marry me and to my surprise she said yes. And to my bigger surprise her family, all ten brothers and sisters, came along as a package deal. Over the years my wife’s family and I have reached a de taunt of sorts, not unlike that of China and Taiwan. They believe their sheer numbers will wear me down and I accept that celebrating diversity starts at home.

Of the ten in this Irish clan, there is one, JJ who has always struck me as my favorite in-law even though we are nothing alike. As number ten of ten, JJ has that uncanny survival instinct of knowing how to tell you to go to hell and you thank her for the ticket. One minute she has you laughing in stitches and the next she is throwing you under the bus because you looked at her the wrong way. And in this dysfunctional, bi-poler, schizophrenic relationship with JJ there has always been one truth. When it comes down to it I have a bizarre respect for her ability to be true to herself and be her own person. She does not expect anyone to agree with her choices or bail her out of the consequence of those choices.

I bring up these family skeletons for two reasons. One, as I start to take inventory for the Alaska adventure I cannot help but tally up the relationships, fuel and mental baggage needed to complete a 5,000 mile adventure in 14 days. B, when it comes to a writer who can take day to day mundane events and spin them into prose flowing as polished threads of spun gold from Rumpelstiltskin’s wheel, there is no equal. You will find JJ at Trauma: The Drama a title which should bring you back to my earlier in-law description.

I encourage everyone wanting to take a side trip on this Last Great Road Trip to head south of the boarder to JJ’s blog. This year it is the Arctic Circle, who knows… next time maybe the Baja and we’ll be sure to drive by (not stop…  just drive by) JJ’s place.

man hiking haul road

An Introduction To The Driver’s Seat

off road driverI am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling mountains and crushing ice. I have been known to take walk about for six months. I translate ethnic slurs for small militant groups. I write haiku.

I have done the Ididarod, raced the Baja and swam with whales. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran on the web and an outlaw in Peru.

I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, a ruthless bookie. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. Children trust me.

I’ve have listened to every Jimmy Buffet song in one sitting. The laws of physics do not apply to me. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full contact origami.

I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff diving competitions in Sri Lanka and checkers tournaments at the Kremlin. I have performed open heart surgery, cloned sheep, rewritten history and I have spoken to Elvis.

But I would like to know about you! Follow our adventure and leave a comment Last Great Road Trip on Facebook. Let me know what you are interested in hearing about. The time I spend with my Dad and friends on these trips is something I’ll never forget. And I will share every mile with you.