Read an Excerpt
To Clear My Head
By Jim Erskine
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Jim Erskine
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Pack Out
Where better to start my walkabout than at Dingmans Campground. Kathy knew I liked to head up there for a few days and refresh myself when I felt things were crashing in around me. It wouldn't be the first time I packed up my camping gear and headed up to Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania.
After dinner our teens, Carter and Nick, disappeared to the basement to play video games. Kathy and I took this quiet time to chat about my plans. "Kathy, I just can't deal with this anymore. You've been incredibly patient with me and I realize that. However, even I've lost patience with me."
"Believe me, I've noticed. You've been even edgier than normal and the boys have also mentioned how grumpy you've been. What do you need to get out of this funk?" She said.
"I don't know," I said. "I just need to get away. I'm losing it more than I normally do and even I can't stand myself anymore. I feel like I've lost the ability to be happy."
"Well as usual, you're seeing things in black and white and missing the shades of gray and color of life. Do you want company or are you going alone?" She asked. She could also tell that this time I may need more.
"I think this time, I just need to get away alone. I've got to figure out where it all went wrong so I can fix it," I said.
Kathy is a wonderful,caring woman with the patience of a saint. A beautiful woman who is just as lovely as the day we married 20-years ago. I wish I could say the same for myself.
She told me to take all the time I needed since it was a really slow time at her office and our boys have become quite self-sufficient since Carter got his driver's license. Indoor lacrosse didn't start for another month and during the fall their only commitments were rock climbing on Tuesday and Thursday at the Elite Climbing Gym, shooting at Fort Dix Rod and Gun club on Monday and Wednesday, and of course Lenape High School Ultimate Frisbee on Fridays and Sundays. (I never could understand how Ultimate Frisbee became a sport but apparently, its popularity at the high school level is exploding.) I know I said that it was a slow time and the list of activities seems rather long, but during winter and spring lacrosse seasons, our lives get rather hectic.
Kathy and I did however, argue about bringing Max. Maximus Decimus Meridius Dogamous (Max for short), is our 65 pound Catahoula Leopard Dog. He's a big time herder and one of the most lovable dogs I have ever had the pleasure of living with. Kathy said he would be lonely and bored while I was fishing. I think she thought she would miss his body keeping her feet warm in bed while I was away. I explained that he would be just fine and would do well keeping the raccoons and bears away from my campsite at night. This didn't bring much joy to my wife's face, but she knew that although I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, Max was a really good listener. I tend to keep things bottled up and everyone waits for the big explosion. It doesn't happen often, and when Max is around and sits with his head on my lap and looks up at me with those big eyes, it's hard to be mad.
I woke up Saturday morning and started to pack out my Ford Expedition. It's not very good on gas mileage, but has plenty of room for the gear hound that I am. A few years earlier while watching a show called "Pimp My Ride" on MTV, the boys asked if they could pimp my ride. I thought it would be a great idea and would give the three of us something to work on together. I had no idea everything that it would eventually involve.
It started out slowly at first. We added a front brush guard and bumper. On this guard we added two flood lights. I had to admit that this made the truck look pretty cool and when we added the cargo basket onto the roof rack, I thought the truck was complete. I was wrong.
Next we added a roof light bar with four large flood lights, two clear and two yellow. Carter did all the wiring and did a good job of hiding all the wires without having to drill any holes.
During one of Kathy's business trips, I borrowed her car for the week and left the truck at home so the boys could work on it without having to wait for me to get home from work. When I arrived home, the boys surprised me by turning on the neon lights that they installed under the frame of the vehicle. Needless to say, it doesn't quite go with the "off-road" look we had started, but, if I pull up next to a young kid at a traffic light and his bass is really thumping at an ear-shattering level, I can always turn on my "neons" and impress him.
The boys' only disappointment was that I decided against Nick's idea of adding 24-inch rims at a cost of $500 each, not including the tires. My off-road wheels worked just fine for everything we do, including getting us out of the sand at Island Beach State Park-a place we like to go during the late summer/early fall for the Governor's Cup fishing tournament, and when the striped bass were running.
The truck was finally complete when we added the CB radio. This was something I knew I had to add when on one of my fishing trips to upstate New York, I slipped and twisted my ankle while climbing up the embankment. I hobbled to my truck and I noticed I had no cell phone reception. Luckily, I was able to drive home but this incident made me realize that I needed a backup for my communications. A CB radio would be a good idea since I was generally always close enough to a highway to be able to reach a trucker and get help.
We attached twin antennas to the cargo basket on the roof and the off-road look on the outside was now complete. The boys on the 7th & 8th grade lacrosse team I coached called the truck "Coach's Tornado Chasing Vehicle!" It did look like the trucks you would see on the Discovery Channel.
We pimped out the inside as well. I installed a fishing rod holder that Nick and I made. It consisted of two pieces of recycled wood from an old futon with eight, two-inch holes drilled into each. We attached hooks at the ends and hung them from the clothes hooks on the sides of the interior roof. This allowed me to bring along two of everything I might need for fishing. Two fly rods, a five-weight and a nine-weight, two spinning rods, two casting rods and two saltwater rods. I wasn't quite sure where this trip was going to end up, but I didn't want to be without a needed rod. By using this device, I could bring all the rods fully assembled and none of them took up any floor space.
Next I lined up the four associated tackle boxes, fly, fresh, salt and miscellaneous on the left side and on the right, I laid a four inch thick memory foam. I figured that if I was on the road and needed to sleep, I could get away with sleeping in the truck and wouldn't have to set up the tent. I also threw in a few clothes, both warm and cold; a couple of sleeping bags; a cooler filled with sandwich stuff (mostly peanut butter and jelly); my laptop; DC converter; my lacrosse first aid kit; 50-pound bag of dog food; Max's collapsible crate; a couple of pillows and a few DVDs. Whew, thank God for the "roomy interior." Even with all this crap, there was still room for Max and me.
On the roof, I packed all the camping gear including a two-man tent, stove, inflatable pontoon boat, pump, flashlights and other miscellaneous gear that I probably would never need. Finally, using the trailer hitch, I attached another basket that held firewood. This was covered with a tarp and bungeed down so that the wood wouldn't fall out.
When I finished, I sat down with Kathy and we had lunch. We talked about the trip and how I would need to do whatever it took to get my head straightened out. She said she would support whatever decisions I made. I finished lunch, walked over to the open basement door, and yelled down to the boys that I was leaving. They yelled back hurriedly so not to interrupt their Halo game on the X-Box. Then Kathy gave Max and me a big kiss goodbye. Actually I think Max got the better kiss, but I could be mistaken.
Chapter TwoOctober 4th Travel day to: Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania
I jumped into the truck and Max bounded into the front seat next to me. We pulled out of the driveway to begin our adventure. We had no idea where this journey would lead. What I did know for sure was that it was going to begin at one of my favorite places in the world to camp and fish.
I decided to take the New Jersey Turnpike thinking that since this was Saturday, the normal back roads would be packed with all kinds of flea market shoppers. The crowds and traffic can sometimes add an additional hour to the trip. So although the Turnpike was a lot longer mileage-wise, the drive time was about the same.
Somewhere around the merge (exit 8), I decided since I was exploring my past, I should probably drive through its beginnings. I punched in the address of the house where I grew up into the GPS. North Arlington, New Jersey would be my first stop. I knew how to get there, but since I had last driven through 15 years ago, I didn't want to take any chances on getting lost.
I took exit 15W and drove through South Kearny. It was nice to see that some things hadn't changed; South Kearny was still full of trucks and truck hubs. I made my way to Schuyler Avenue then turned left onto Belleville Turnpike and passed Pizzaland, the pizza place made famous by the HBO series, "The Sopranos." I fought the urge to be the typical tourist and stop in for a slice though I had done that hundreds of times during my youth.
I made my way up to Ridge Road and turned right into North Arlington. I was amazed how much had changed. It was like the town grew up and old all at the same time. The streets seemed narrower and many had actually been turned into one way streets. All the old mom-and-pop stores had been converted into large CVS and Walgreens. I turned right onto Abbott Place then right onto Morgan Place.
There it was, the house of my youth. It looked so much smaller than I remembered. I thought about how far I had come from these humble beginnings. Tons of memories flooded into my mind. Memories of sitting on the roof just outside my bedroom window and of swimming in our above ground pool in the back yard. That was until it broke one weekend when we were away and it flooded out our downhill neighbors. We never did find out how this happened but I'm sure a number of the local kids enjoyed the pool while we were away.
The white fence was still there and so was the garage. The lawn in the front had been removed and white rocks replaced it. I would earn a dollar each time I mowed this tiny area. I couldn't get over how narrow the street was. We used to play touch football out in front of my house using telephone poles as end zone markers. Then again, I wasn't sure if the street had shrunk or I had just grown bigger.
I continued down to Inman Place, crossed over Ridge Road then turned down Hedden Terrace. I must have walked this way a million times. At the bottom of Hedden Terrace were North Arlington High School's football, baseball, and track and field fields. They had been renamed in memory of Edwin "Rip" Collins. Back in my time, Rip Collins was the Athletic Director and a force to be reckoned with. His responsibilities also included being the school disciplinarian and he was really good at it. He was a large man with a booming voice and a prosthetic leg. The loss of his leg was the source of many stories and speculations. I really loved and respected the man and had been quite saddened to hear of his passing.
Having passed the playing fields of my youth including the Little League fields adjacent to the High School stadium, I headed back to "Cruise the Ridge." Making my way back to Ridge Road I turned left to drive its length. Back in the '70s, it was like a scene from "American Graffiti." All the kids drove no faster than ten miles an hour, hung out the windows, and shouted to friends on the bus-stop benches. Although the scenery had changed and the benches were no longer there, the cool feeling that I was back left me quite content. I passed the High School and thought about stopping in but didn't. I then passed the long stretch of Holy Cross Cemetery. You see, North Arlington is approximately one mile by one mile square and two thirds of this area is made up of Holy Cross Cemetery. I think at one point North Arlington was in the Guinness Book of Records for having more dead people in it than live ones.
I wound my way through Lyndhurst then got onto Route 3 West to check out my alma mater, Montclair State College. I was actually amazed at how well I was getting around. I merged onto Route 46 then exited onto Valley Road in Upper Montclair. The traffic was heavy due to the end of a Red Hawk Football game. When I was there, we were the Indians but I guess that is just too politically incorrect today.
To avoid the stadium traffic, I continued down University Avenue and was stunned at the growth of the College. Montclair had grown so much that several years ago it became a University. I remember receiving a letter asking me if I wanted a new diploma with their new status as a University. I politely declined since I graduated from Montclair State College and not Montclair State University. I will, however, admit that on my current resume I have MSU not MSC.
I made my way down Clove Road and to the Clove Road Apartments. Although I was a commuting student, I spent many a night at the apartments. I even dated all three girls in one apartment, though not at the same time.
Past the apartments was an entirely new sports complex. It was mostly geared to baseball though that wasn't surprising since adjacent to the fields was the Yogi Berra Museum. It was beautiful. Back in my day, all this was just an old quarry. I pulled over and took Max for a walk. It was time to stretch our legs. Having completed our business, we climbed back into the truck and headed down Route 46 West to Interstate 80 and continued west. I eventually made my way to Route 15 then 206 and wound my way to the Dingmans Bridge crossing the Delaware River. We turned left onto Route 209 and into the Dingmans Ferry Campground.
We stopped at the office, checked-in, and made our way to campsite #122, one of my favorites, right on the river. There's nothing like rolling out of bed, walking about 20-feet and being able to wet a fishing line. Max jumped out of the truck and I unloaded the tent and gear. I was glad that I had decided to bring the small two man tent since it was only the two of us. I had it up in minutes, fed Max, and made a couple of sandwiches. I stoked up a fire and pulled out my laptop to take notes of the day's adventures. It was beginning to get dark so I decided to leave the fishing till tomorrow morning. We had booked a stay for two nights so there would be plenty of time to fish the familiar waters of the Delaware.
After dinner, Max and I tossed around the ball with the Chuckit. I was glad that I had brought 3 cans of tennis balls since he had already bitten into and destroyed one ball. When he finally looked tuckered out, I assembled his crate, put it into the tent and we both climbed in our beds for a good night's sleep.
I had no idea what the next couple of days would hold or where I would end up, but I did have a great day reliving old times and seeing the places of my youth. It made me feel good that I had come so far from that small town. After all, there were kids I went to school with whose parents and grandparents went to the same school and now I'm sure their own kids were attending the school as well. I, at least, had made it out and had even been around the world.
Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania
I got up early and took Max for a walk. It was a beautiful morning without a cloud in the sky. The leaves were just beginning to turn and the trees surrounding the river valley were developing all sorts of reds and yellows. We saw a bald eagle circling over the river and I had hoped he wasn't fishing since that was where I was heading next! When we returned to the tent, I put on my waders, grabbed the five-weight fly rod, and headed for the water. Max followed along till we got to the water. I waded in and he plopped himself on the river bank, content to watch.
Excerpted from To Clear My Head by Jim Erskine Copyright © 2009 by Jim Erskine. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.