Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thinking Deep

I'm not a deep person.  My emotions and thoughts tend to run close to the surface.  I'm so driven to gather and assimilate data and connect facts that I miss the opportunity to make deeper connections.  Except with math and physics.  But that's a completely different and nerdy tale that would scare real people away.  So I'll let it go... I guess.  Classical literature also escapes me, though I was a fan of "Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey" on Saturday Night Live.  Mr. Handey even had some thoughts about his Grandpa going fishing, but the ending just wasn't the kind of thing I wanted to risk including here.  Google at your leisure.

I even consider myself to be a shallow fisherman.  It's still unbelievably rewarding watching a trout swipe a floating dry fly, even if it misses.  Going under the surface requires a whole new set of skills, which sounds like work.  Do I really want to work when I'm fishing?  Also being male, I'm not exactly predisposed to being a deep thinker.  Scratch, scratch.  Grunt.  Ooo, shiny!

Lately I've been faced with some challenges and choices that have required me to think deep.  Those of you with degrees in English or Journalism might be twitching and barely suppressing the urge to attack with a red pen.  You might be thinking, "You idiot.  You should have written 'required me to think deeply.'"  And you would be correct, yet wrong.  The grammar police might issue a ticket, but I'd convince the judge to dismiss the charges, kinda like that speeding where I play-acted as my own attorney.  Instead of thinking deeply, I've been considering Deep Brain Stimulation, a surgical therapy for Parkinson's Disease.

Here's the ten-thousand foot overview of Deep Brain Stimulation: your head gets locked into a "halo" to make sure you can't move while a neurosurgeon drills a hole in your skull and threads some electrodes down into a targeted region deep in your brain.  These electrodes are then connected to a small device that gets implanted in your chest.   The device applies an electrical signal intended to disrupt a malfunctioning part of the brain that contributes to the muscle rigidity, slowness, and tremors of PD.

Then there's the terrifying bit: most of the surgeries are done with the patient conscious and aware.   The final placement of the electrodes usually involves patient participation, with a test signal being applied as the surgeon moves the leads a fraction of a millimeter at a time.  I have avoided going to the dentist for more than 20 years simply because I can't face the thought of having a tooth drilled.  My skull?  I've cried when discussing this with neurologists.

There are also non-trivial risks associated with the surgery.  Some statistics show a 25% chance of significant "adverse events" during or immediately following surgery.  2% chance of stroke that causes permanent damage or death.  I'll stop the risk analysis here.

Why consider doing this?  As I sit in front of my Macbook, my neck and upper back throb in pain.  Since my meds have worn off for the day, my typing rate is reduced to maybe a quarter of my usual speed.  It would be nice to have some balance again, and not limp around.

Fear has been eating at my energy and self-control.  One of the absolute worst problems that Parkinson's Disease has brought me has nothing to do with movement.  Loss of dopamine has sometimes paralyzed me with anxiety, and that can lead to severe mood problems.  Getting angry with yourself because you see how it affects your family just adds fuel to the fire.  I'm sometimes able to find my way out of this mental maze, but not before accumulating some serious shame baggage.

I arrived at the conclusion that we (Mrs. Fading Angler and I) are going to at least learn whether or not I qualify as a candidate for DBS therapy.  I've had some symptoms that might disqualify me, and if so, I can dismiss the risks, anxiety, and decisions.  For now, I need to go fishing.  I'll be spending the next few mornings and evenings chasing brookies and browns.  Maybe some trout therapy will loosen my knotted psyche.

Safe weekend and tight lines, folks.  I'll be fishing on top.

Epilogue: I have a "no whining" policy for myself here on The Fading Angler, and it looks in retrospect like I came perilously close to violating said policy.  Here's my attempt to make it right without rewriting history: the weekend of fishing helped.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Retreat into Memories

I'm nearly out of words for the week.  I'm confused and knotted up.  So, time to throw up the shields and surround myself with the good thoughts, before Daily Affirmation #7 takes over:
I can change any thought that hurts into a reality that hurts even more.
Let us now mindfully retreat into our happy place: a few fishing memories.  Eddie Rivard composed these photos of me when I was lucky enough to meet up with his brother, his father, and the artist himself on the North Tongue River in Wyoming last week.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Eddie Rivard.  As always, click any photo to enlarge.

(Thank you, Eddie.  I don't know if you can understand what these mean to me.)

Photo by Mrs. Fading Angler
Taken near the Big Horn Medicine Wheel
Elevation approx. 9600 ft.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Road Trip Therapy

We've completed our version of a Great Circle.  The Offspring, Mrs. Fading Angler, and I arrived home last night around 9:45 PM CDT.  I must note for everyone's benefit that 95% of the total miles and 100% of the miles towing the Mobile Hotel® were driven by Mrs. FA.  I haven't been allowed to be in the driver's seat when towing this RV.  This is probably wise, but not fair that I'm unable to share the burden of driving on a 17 day round trip.  She's amazing.

The Great "Circle"
(click images to enlarge)

Some facts from the trip:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Into Dark Territory

At long last, I'm headed into a place with no cell service and no readily-available WiFi.  We drove out the East Entrace of Yellowstone a couple of hours ago and are now headed up to the North Tongue River in the Big Horn mountains.  With any luck, I might get schooled by the great Eddie Rivard tomorrow morning, as we are coincidentally both vacationing in the same area at the same time.

Should be back in reach of the digital universe Sunday night.  Set your VCR, don't miss an episode!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fear and Loathing in West Yellowstone

Monday was Day One of the Yellowstone National Park portion of our trip.  We've planned to spend a total of 3 full days in the area.  Monday started slow, and I made a quick trip over to Blue Ribbon Flies and met up with Tom Brodhead, creator and proprietor of 406 Fly Lines.  Tom drove 2.5 hours from Livingstone just to chat and let me try a demo of his 6 weight double-taper for my Epic 686.  Impressed, I purchased one from Cam in the Blue Ribbon Flies store.  More on this in the future after I have a chance to spool up the new line and use it on the water!

When I asked for a little guidance on what patterns to try on some specific Yellowstone Park streams, a gentleman named John pointed out a few things that ran counter to some of the tribal wisdom for a warm August.  When we were done picking flies, I introduced myself, and found that I was being assisted by none other than John Juracek.  Overall, an impressive start to the day.

I met the family at DQ for lunch and we proceeded into the park.  The general idea was to get a couple of the crowed beaten-path sights checked off the list and try some less-crowded placed for days 2 and 3.  We spent a good amount of time driving and stopping along the Firehole River, then made our way into Old Faithful village.  That's when things started to unravel.

We explored acres of parking area in hope of finding a space long/wide enough for a crew cab, long box Ford F350.  Just before parking, the "service engine soon" indicator appeared on the dash.  This truck is  just a couple days short of one year old.  My mind immediately flashed through the next 24 hours, and The Little Voices® began screaming.  Clearly, Mrs. Fading Angler was not pleased.  I entered Stage 1 of Fear-and Loathing.  A dark cloud hung over our viewing of the eruption of Old Faithful and the subsequent drive out of the park back to the Mobile Hotel®.  During that drive, the engine also developed a low-rpm knock/rattle.  The Diagnostic Department in my head crunched the limited data and computed a list of likely cause for the idiot-light and knock/rattle.  The most-probable cause: bad fuel injector.  Less probable: bad piston ring, main bearing, or piston rod bearing.  Please welcome, if you will, Stage 2 of Fear-and-Loathing.

During a brief window of cellphone coverage in the park, Mrs. FA called the Ford dealer in Bozeman.  The service department there was EXCEPTIONALLY unhelpful, despite the fact that she told them we were in Yellowstone, on vacation from Minnesota, pulling a fifth-wheel RV.  She was told they wouldn't even have time to read the diagnostic code from the engine computer for at least 10 days.  The Offspring and I could feel her blood boiling, so we elected to remain as quiet as possible while she drove.  I grabbed a beer and sat outside at the picnic table when we arrived back at the Mobile Hotel®, and contacted a retired heavy-equipment diesel mechanic: my father.  His most-probable-cause analysis was the same: if our anti-freeze reservoir was full, it's probably a bad injector.  Fear-and-Loathing Stage 3 whacked me on the back of the head.

If you've not seen the engine compartment of a Ford "Super Duty" truck lately, it looks like 10 pounds of material stuffed into a 1 pound box.  There is no room to perform any maintenance other than oil check, and coolant fill, and maybe air filter change.  Just about anything else requires the CAB TO BE LIFTED OFF THE BODY.  This is time-consuming.  Who knows when a shop will be able to fit us in.  And RV spaces are hard to get around here at this point.  We made our reservations back in April, and we're supposed to check out Thursday morning.

Mrs. FA is driving the truck down to Rexburg, Idaho right now.  The Offspring and I are "stranded" in West Yellowstone at the Mobile Hotel.  (Laundry day!)  Maybe everything will be super simple and we can get back on schedule.  And, after all, we're still under warranty.  With a little good fortune, we might be able to meet my family (and the famous Eddie Rivard!) up in the Wyoming's Big Horn mountains by Thursday night.  If not, I might run out of anxiety meds.

Into every angling vacation, a little rain must fall...

Update - 9:53 AM MDT : Ford dealer in Rexburg is being extraordinarily kind to Mrs. FA.  They read the computer diagnostic code: Failed injector.  They need to perform 5 or 6 more diagnostic checks before we can make plans, and this is expected to take until at least 3 PM.

In the meantime, I just remembered that Mrs. FA and the Offspring bought me a t-shirt yesterday.

There are worse places in the world to be stranded than West Yellowstone.  Time to make some lemonade.

Update - 11:47 PM MDT : Either somebody was praying for us (not me, seems too vain, praying for my own benefit) or else I just cashed in a serious amount of karma.  Mrs. FA was back in West Yellowstone by 2 PM MDT.  The big diagnostic computer at the Ford dealer had a conversation with the little engine computer in our truck.  The truck computer was complaining that our fuel was bad (cetane levels too low) and was trying to compensate by pushing more fuel.  Eventually, out fell too far out of spec and threw the trouble code.  They reprogrammed the truck computer to a lower tolerance than the original factory spec (part of a factory TSB update, so still under warranty), tested it on the road, and meekly declared it fixed, much to our surprise and that of both diesel mechanics on duty.  They spent a good amount of time chatting with her, perhaps surprised at her level of knowledge.  When the block cracked on the Cummins engine in our '99 Dodge Ram, she helped her father strip the old engine and build the new one on the new block that Cummins provided for us.  But I digress.  Fresh fuel and a cetane booster we added to the half-empty tank, and back on tour we went.  Try not to buy diesel from the Town Pump/ExxonMobil in Ennis, Montana if you can avoid it.

Crowning jewel of the day, and perhaps the trip:  we watched a pack of three wolves trek a mile or two along a hillside in the Yellowstone River valley until it was almost too dark to see.  I was almost as excited to walk through the Norris geyser basin.

Yes, I forgot my lessons from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Seeing Myself

Editor's Note, August 9, 7:47 AM - After reviewing comments, it appears I missed the mark when I wrote this.  The Fading Angler Blog is a NO WHINING zone.  This is not meant to be a tale of woe.  It's a story of a bit of struggle, followed by some unexpected redemption.  I'm always trying to improve faster than I'm decaying.  Sometimes Parkinson's Disease wins the battle, but I'm still winning the war.

It's not often we get a good look at ourselves.  That passing glance in the mirror in the morning is an illusion of a reflection.  I'm talking about the kind of vision where you're actually able to see yourself for what you are, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Sometimes it's a health crisis that brings things into focus, and sometimes it's simply the focus of a camera lens held by another person.

When I fished with Dan Milligan of Blackfoot River Outfitters last Friday, I had a really lousy casting day.  I couldn't seem to get my body to manipulate the rod and line the way I wanted to.  Dan gently made suggestions all day, but I'm pretty sure he thought I was ignoring him.  I was trying, but I was frustrated and tangled up in my head as well.  I am thankful that I've nearly shed any feelings of pride or embarrassment when it comes to casting.  I am what I am.  I do what I can, including trying to get better.  And, no matter how ugly or dysfunctional my casting looks, I am getting strikes and catching fish.  I care less and less what other people think of my ugly form and amateurish technique.

I did feel bad for Dan, though.  He endured this ugliness for hours.  One thing he repeated several times throughout the day was, "Try to keep your elbow down."  I tried, but felt no success.  I felt like I failed him.  But it turns out that he gave me a better gift that any piece of casting advice: photographs.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

And Now, Back to Fishing...

We just rolled into Ennis, Montana and parked the Mobile Hotel® a couple of long casts from the banks of the Madison River.  It's currently raining and gusting 40+ here, plus the Madison is under "hoot owl" restrictions, so no angling after 2 PM because the heat is hard on the trout.  It's nice to get a little moisture and cooler temps.

Yesterday was a designated angling day for me.  Mrs. Fading Angler and The Offspring went panning for sapphires in (surprise!) the Sapphire Mountains east of Missoula.  Lest you begin seeing visions of grey beards and pickaxes, this is a tourist trap commercial establishment that is happy to loan you equipment when you buy buckets of dirt ore mined material to sift through.  I think they had fun.  Here's what happened to me on Friday, wading on Rock Creek:
  • Big Horn sheep
  • Brown trout
  • Cutthroat trout
  • Rainbow trout
  • Cutbow trout (no, I was not fishing with Hank Patterson...)
  • Bull trout (sadly, found deceased in the creek)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Forget fishing, there's beer!

Occasionally, an angler needs a day off.  One of those days usually follows a day of extreme hiking (extreme for a 43 year old dude with Parkinson's Disease), falls (not the water kind), bruising, sliding and climbing steep off-trail inclines, and mild exhaustion.  We prepped to move to a new campground this morning, then I slept from noon til 2.

No fishing today, but I'm sitting at a picnic table under a cloudless sky, watching the last rays of light climb the peaks to the east.  And I'm enjoying one of my favorite things from Montana: local beer.

Tonight's write-up features a couple of my favorites: Yardsale Amber Ale from Tamarack Brewing Company, and Cold Smoke Scotch Ale from Kettle House Brewing Company.  I love it that they come in pint cans.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Off My Chain

Attempting to migrate past Hungry Horse reservoir
I got up at 5 AM Sunday morning and drove 2.5 miles away to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River for casting practice.  On the way back to the Mobile Hotel®, I stopped for milk and donuts.  The Offspring were already eating when I returned so I showered and finished my coffee.  When I saw the bottom of my mug, the Warden Mrs. Fading Angler arrived with news: parole was granted, I was free to take the truck and leave for a day of solo angling.

My plan was to take a LOOONG drive (nearly 3 hours each way): the South Fork of the Flathead River.  This river flows from the Bob Marshall Wilderness northward into Hungry Horse reservoir.  The Hungry Horse dam prevents rainbow trout, brown trout and other invasive non-native species from migrating up into this fork, protecting the native West Slope Cutthroat trout and also native but endangered Bull trout.  I'm a bit of a purist: Scotch should be single malt, trout should be native.