Friday, June 29, 2007

Grooming Standards

Camping and fishing have been two of my favorite pastimes ever since I was a young kid. Well, I'm still a young kid, but you know what I mean. The summer before I moved to Japan, I went on a two week camping trip with my father-in-law. He and I get along very well, and he's a pleasure to be around. I made the trek from 29 Palms, California, to a small campsite in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I arrived in the late afternoon, and claimed a site for us. He arrived late in the evening, and we got the camp set up.

We were camped a few feet from a beautiful stream that was teeming with trout. I could literally get out of my sleeping bag, grab my fishing pole, and be standing on the bank of the stream in four steps. We had no trouble catching our limit each day, and our diet was made up of mostly, you guessed it: fish. We had fish for just about every meal, and I never tired of it. When the fish goes from the stream into a frying pan in less than an hour, it gives a whole new meaning to the word "fresh."

Being a few miles from Tioga Pass, the scenery was spectacular. We would go on a short hike here and there to check out various fishing spots. The farther we trekked into the wilderness, the more interesting the fishing became. We'd gradually see fewer rainbow trout, and more brown and golden trout. I was fishing with a little ultra-light rig with two pound line. It made catching the tiny browns feel like fighting a marlin. When we hiked away from the "stocked" areas, we would typically switch to barb-less hooks, in order to more easily release the small fish that we would invariably catch.

The top picture above is of Saddlebag Lake. I believe that it's the highest lake in the nation that you can drive to. I cannot recall the exact elevation, but it's certainly up there. The fishing there was great, and there are some monster trout in that lake. We spent the better part of a day there, and failed to catch any keepers. It seemed as if everyone else that was there was having great luck. It was still a good day.

Being in the wilderness, my father-in-law and I decided that we would go without shaving for the duration of the trip. My only concern was returning to 29 Palms upon completion. I'd have to go through the main gate of the base, and being unshaven is frowned upon, to say the least. As our trip neared its end, we decided to stop at a public campground near the main highway and use their "pay showers" to get cleaned up. After two weeks of living in the dirt, the hot shower felt great, and I shaved in the shower. There was no mirror in the shower (nor outside of it), so I had to shave by feel. My face and neck felt strange after growing accustomed to the two week's worth of beard growth.

We said our goodbyes at that point, and went our separate ways. I had about a four hour drive back to 29 Palms, and I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed that night. As I pulled off the highway to make a "pit stop," I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed a patch of hair the size of a quarter on my neck. The rest of my face and neck was clean-shaven, and here was this patch of beard that was about 1/2 of an inch in length. It stood out like a nun at a rock concert. My shaving bag was buried under a ton of junk in the trunk of the car, so I decided to leave it be.

As I made my way to the main gate of the Marine Base in 29 Palms, I glanced again in the mirror. I was wondering if the guards at the gate (military police) would notice my odd little patch of beard. As I showed my I.D. card, I could tell by the strange look on the young Marine's face that he had indeed noticed the spot of growth. I was waiting for him to tell me to pull over so that he could write me a ticket. Fortunately, he let me pass, and I made my way home. After greeting my wife and kids, I went into the bathroom and examined the spot more closely in our large mirror. I felt like a moron. The spot of beard looked like a giant mole, or tumor. I'm amazed that the guards made no comment. My wife got quite a kick out of it, and laughed heartily at my mistake. My appearance would have stood out less if I had not shaved at all. Oh well; lesson learned: pack a mirror.

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