JoshuasTravels — Senior Year

Posts categorized “Senior Year”.

March 13th 2007

Salt Lake’s got 9-ish resorts, and I’m proud to say I’ve rocked them all

First things first: I’ll be commissioning as a second Lieutenant on May 5th (the same day I graduate from Truman, but – honestly – I’m not half as excited about that). And the High Brass has decided that I’ll have about a month of limbo before my Army-clock starts ticking. After that limbo-month, I’ll spend two months in at FT Sill (Oklahoma) in basic Officer training, after which I’ll transfer to FT Knox (gloriously named after our first Secretary of War, and located in Kentucky) for tank-specific training. After that I’ll be headed to FT Bliss (which is ironically located just outside El Paso, Texas) for the next four or so years (that includes a very likely stopover in Iraq).

Would I have rather been stationed somewhere in Germany? I can answer very definitely: yes. But this life seems to be what you make of it, and Texas is the way things are. There are things you can control, and there are things you can’t control. And El Paso isn’t that far from quite a few interesting places. The beer, I’m afraid, will be worse than it would in Germany, but you could say that about anywhere.

Now then – I’m writing this, Renegade Journalist style, in a bathroom on a train speeding (somewhat speeding) between Salt Lake and Missouri, using the razor-outlet to power my trusty Thinkpad. I couldn’t ask for a better laptop, but she’s starting to show her age.

So: like a stray cat, I just keep finding myself back in Utah. There’s a few good reason’s it’s called The Ski Bum’s Paradise, and with ten-or-so resorts less than an hour’s drive away, compared with a relatively low cost of living, topped off with the peoples (and sister) I know there, and… well, it makes for a very attractive spring break.

I rounded up four friends: Chad, Cheri, Greg, and Paul, and we all saddled up for a train ride out there. But the only thing Amtrak seems to do on time is bill your credit card, and both our trips wound up being more along the lines of 35 hours. The lesson here, I think, is: fly.

But we got there, and we ripped it up. Wolf Mount, Brighton, Solitude, Snowbasin (where my parents met), and a full day of touristy stuff (the Temple, the Lake, etc).

I’m proud to report that my sister (who goes to school just north of SLC and has a weekly ski schedule), has developed into the best skier in the Fenton family. I don’t mean to brag, but that’s saying something. Her form is impeccable, and her default speed is just-ever-so-slightly higher than mine (in that thunderous range where most people would find themselves saying all the Holy Hossanas they could remember).

And, of course, no trip to SL would be complete without saying hello to Ross and the Rossettes. My father’s cousin, and his family, has always made a point to see me whenever I hit the beehive state, and I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

I took a whole lot of good pictures. Upwards of 1,700. To be fair, though, many of those are rapid-fire sequences, and I deemed only 120-ish worthy of throwing up on the ol’ interwebs.

And, to close on a bit of housekeeping, I’m still working on re-vamping my website. It’s been almost done three times now, but things keep sliding back to square 1. Having said that, I wish you all the very best of March 16ths.

proudly sitting here, sporting a ski-goggle tan and signing off,

Josh “quick turns” Fenton

February 8th 2007

visiting the 22nd-largest city in the US (and largest in Wisconsin)

I do my fair share of travelling, and I pay a high price for it. Throughout all my journeying, I’ve gotten incredibly lucky. Contrariwise, however, sometimes things have turned sour pretty quickly.

Someday, remind me to tell you about the time I got stranded in Kansas City. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a Comedy of Errors with a very, very fitting and tragic ending. But I won’t tell that story now, so remind me later, and – if you can spare it – buy me a bottle of suds for my trouble.

This trip was supposed to be a little bit of Milwaukee and a lot of Chicago, but it turned out to be a lot of Milwaukee and basically none of Chicago. I meant to hit the Windy City two weekends ago, but the weather kept ruining my plans. I drive a big truck that doesn’t do too hot in the snow, and that’s a problem that’s just exacerbated by Midwest drivers (most of whom go loco-insaneo in snowy conditions). Factor in the break-down variable and waiting for a spare-parts in the cold winter and, well, waiting for warm weather is usually the smart choice.

But I was sick of waiting, and swore that I was making it to Chicago. That weekend. If I had to crawl. And that wasn’t a good idea.

So we (me and my pal Kara) leave Kirksville on a beautiful Friday afternoon. And every thing’s going great and we’re making real good time, all the way to Dubuque, Iowa. About 50 miles outside of Dubuque, the snow starts falling. And then it’s at a half foot and still coming. Like I say, I drive a truck, and that’s a bit tricky in the heavy snow. But – between slowing down the ‘old odometer and paying super-more-attention-to-the-road, things were still fine.

And, as we left Dubuque, it all went out the window. The driving conditions and the trips whole cost/benefit ratio, all of it. It all went out the window, exactly as we crossed the Rubicon. It was too late to go back, and I drove just shy of 200 miles in 3rd gear.

Things weren’t much better when we got to Milwaukee, either. I’m happy to report that M-waukee is a pretty cool little town, and that it’s got three or four great little micro-breweries. I don’t like to play favorites with my beers, but if the the Pilsner at the Rock Bottom wasn’t the best Pilsner I’ve ever had, it’s certainly in the top three.

I’m going through a pretty hellacious set of mid-terms right now, so that’s about all I’ve got time for, but I’d like to note that this trip stands doubley out as the first time I’ve stayed with a friend of a friend. I’ve stayed with friends before and I’ve stayed with strangers before, but never a friend of friend. Until now, I mean.

There weren’t enough (good) pics to justify an album, so I just attached them. And I hope you like them.


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January 3rd 2007

my 16th and final winter break

I got back to Missouri two weeks ago. I should have sent this out a week and a half ago. I have no excuses, but I will say that my last semester is going really well, and I’ve been very busy in all the right ways. Without further adieu:

So here I sit, in the Amtrak waiting room at Kansas City. My train’s been delayed and won’t be here for another three hours, cruelly postponing the last leg of my journey. I must admit I’d rather have the last leg delayed than the first leg, but that doesn’t make it much easier. After two full aero-flights (both complete with screaming babies), an overnight stay at KC International, and the wicked realization that no matter where I sit down, I always seem to be seven feet away from a cell-phone-yapping middle-aged women who’ll carry on completely inane conversations just to pass the time. Not to communicate vital or even interesting information, but as a time-killer, and extreme annoyance.

I recognize that travel is an inherently social exercise, and I’m happy to partake in the worst humanity has to offer, but – after all this – I’m somehow ready to be back in Kirksville.

Anyway: my trip. Let’s start with Utah. It’s hard to believe that I finished up finals three weeks ago; it seems like ages ago. But I know I did, because I found myself in Salt Lake City, skiing at The Canyons, drinking at Squatters, and having a very good time with my very good friend Kelly Wikstrom.

If you’re in Utah (it’s said) you’re either a Mormon or a skier. I fit into the latter category, and had a blast tearing up and down ski slopes, roaming around Temple Square, eating the foods you can’t get in Kirksville, and drinking the micro brews you can’t order there, either.

All that was only first three days of my trip. Eighty-odd hours later, I strapped my ski boots to my backpack and boarded the last plane to Portland.

What, exactly, could I say about family that hasn’t already been said? It was great to home. It was great to see me madre, padre, and hermana (I don’t know the espanol for extended family, but them, too). It was great to see the lush greens of my home state, to smell the wet of the newly fallen rains, and so on.

I was, luckily, able to linkup with a few of my old compatriots and sample the hip Portland scene. Most of that is better explained through the linked pictures, although I will say that is was damn encouraging to see faces that I hadn’t seen for years – faces that I hope to see more of soon.

Ten days in the Beaver state and I’m proud to say I spent three of them doing that thing I do where I strap snow-planks to my feet. But this best story of the trip? Here it is. But first you’ll have to look at some of the pictures from spring break last year (the Illinois to Colorado trip), and notice the band aid on my face. That band aid was because of raw skin. The raw skin was because I was playing with matches, and wound up burning myself. In the face.

Up until now, that was the Dumbest Thing I’ve Ever Done. So here’s the deal: as we were leaving Timberline Ski Lodge, I volunteered to grab some of the equipment we Fentos left up towards the top of the lodge. The plan was the grab the gear, clip in, ski down to the waiting car, de-gear (it’s a really really bad idea to leave your ski coat on for the drive back), and take off. Easy right?

I got the gear, clipped in, and started to ski back. The low light levels were impairing my ability to see the car, though, and I stopped. After a minute of hard looking, I spotted it about thirty feet down slope of my current position. So I put ’em parallel and sped down. Somehow, between the sun going down and the exhaustion from a full day’s skiing, I judged the the difference between where the snow stopped and the road started to be – at most – a half foot drop.

A half foot? No problem, and I’ll just look that much more badass doing it with an armful of equipment over one shoulder. So I drop over the ledge, and I don’t land. And then I land. Hard. And go from a mostly vertical position to a mostly horizontal one, popping out of my binding and absorbing most of the impact with my little bit of my left shoulder and a lot of my face.

I let loose an immediate utterance, a popular anti-euphemism for what happens after you eat, caught my wind, worked my way into a kneeling position, and looked back to see that the ‘little half foot drop’ looked about six feet taller from my new perspective.

So, in conclusion: old dumbest thing? Matches in the face. New dumbest thing? A face-smashing low-speed jump into a drop taller than myself.

That seems like a perfectly good place to stop talking about the Oregon trip. A few days after the New Dumbest Thing, I flew back to Utah for some unfinished skiing. Very few people drink like non-Mormons in Salt Lake, and the New Years was a lot better than I expected. Every time we went out, really, was more fun than you’d expect.

But we went skiing more than we went out, and we hit up Snowbird, Solitude, Wolf Mountain (instead of PowMow, aka DerTain, aka Powder Mountain), and the always classy Deer Valley. The snow was always absolutely incredible and totally common to Utah, the people were chill as If You See Kay, and anything else I could possible say would only detract from the majesty of the pictures that were taken. I return to the Midwest with a slight ankle hurt, a tweaked spin, a serious sleep deficit and almost 200 new pictures.

Joshy Ski

December 3rd 2006

Utah, Thanksgiving, Me

The plan was for all us Fentons to meet in Utah for Thanksgiving. That sort of fell through, for a number of reasons, and I still found myself spending a week in the Beehive state. My sister goes to school there, so I had a pretty good time with her and her boyfriend and one of my closest friends, Kelly Wikstrom, who was there too. Kelly had moved there from Missouri about three months earlier.

And the skiing! T’was as amazing as the company. I got to knockout three different resorts – Snowbird, Brighton, and Alta. Brighton was with Anna and Trevor, but Snowbird and Alta left me with only the Girl From Missouri as company. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Alta, by far, was the sweetest place I’ve ever placed ski to snow. The combined ability level of all the Alta skiers (they don’t sell lift tickets to snowboarders) was far higher than the standard. Everyone there, except me and Kelly, was pro-level or higher. Alta, to my thinking, is where the demigods of Ski play.

My sister works at the campus bowling alley, and so we went to bother her some there. She also cooked up a grand Thanksgiving dinner, which we all ate up.

If this sendout writeup seems brief, please bare in mind that I skied most of the week away. And skiing, while fun to do, does not leave much to write or read about. I rode up a lot of chair lifts, I skied down a lot of slopes. I skied fast, I skied slow, I had relaxing runs and I had harried runs. I had fun.

In completely other news, Uncle Sam has assigned me to Armor, the tank branch of this republic’s Army. I don’t know quite how that happened – both my GPA and my PT score (the biggest factors in branch assignment) were significantly higher than the national cadet average. But while tank’n wasn’t my first choice, it damn sure wasn’t my last and I can’t imagine it’s going to be that bad scooting around Wherever in an Abrams. For clarification, however: I’ll more-than-likely be Tank Commander of a crew of four, one of which is a 63 ton, 4.3 million dollar beast of a warfighter. They haven’t told me where my first duty station will be yet, but I’ll pass that along when they do.

I’m halfway between a big net-transition. You can use the arrow keys to scan through the pictures, and if you’ve got a Picasa Web Account, you can leave a comments. Play around with it, let me know what you think.

Tanker Fenton

September 6th 2006

Bravo 249, CDT Fenton speaking. How may I help you SirOrMa’am?

Because spending five weeks at Camp wasn’t enough (generally speaking, it’s never enough), I volunteered for three more weeks of CTLT, making for an uninterrupted two months of Army Fun. CTLT is a sort of internship-slash-job-shadow where a Cadet, like myself, gets paired with a Lieutenant. This is neat for two reasons: you get sort of a preview of what you’ll be doing in a year’s time, and you get to spend time in a real unit, interacting with all the Officers, Sergeants, and Soldiers. You learn a lot of very practical things.

I volunteered for an Engineer unit: Bravo Company, 249th Battalion (Prime Power). And I really lucked out with the 249. Unique is a highly overused term these days, but that’s what they are. Their mission is to provide massive amounts of electrical power on demand, anywhere in the world. They’ve got some real powerful generators to help them do it (big ones, mounted on trailers, capable of powering medium-sized cities). More importantly, though, they’ve got the technical know-how to get it done.

Every enlisted soldier, as part of in-processing, takes a comprehensive test over 14-odd subjects. The top score is 130, the minimum 31. Soldiers that score 31 pretty much wind up with job titles like “infantryman” or “cook.” To branch Engineer requires a generally high score, but for Prime Power, though, the minimum is very high: 110. And all Prime Power soldiers are sent off to a year’s worth of college before they linkup with the unit. So Bravo 249 is filled with highly trained, very competent Sergeants and Warrant Officers. They aren’t any Specialists, Privates, or – for that matter – Lieutenants in 249. The platoons are called detachments, and they’re led by Warrant Officers (who know a lot more about electricity than any LT).

Bravo 249, like I said, is unique – it’s not part of the 82nd, or even the 18th Airborne Corps. I apologize for all the Army mumbo-jumbo jargon, but what I’m trying to express here is that the chain of command is very, very short. The Captain in charge of Bravo reports to the Colonel in charge of the 249th, who in turn reports directly to the Deputy Chief of Engineers, a General that wears two stars on his uniform, is the highest ranking Engineer in the Army, and generally spends a lot of time at the White House.

Seeing as there aren’t any LTs to mentor me, I bounced around the unit like a motivated, dedicated, and curious Ronin, learning about things on both the company and platoon levels. So it was a big help that everyone in the unit is knowledgeable and willing to take a minute and show the Cadet something.

Life itself is a lot better here at CTLT. They put all of us Cadets up at the Gateway Inn, a dinky little hotel right off post. The Internet access is on-again, off-again but it’s got clean, private bathrooms, and two big old queen size beds that we never have to make. I’m a pretty tidy person, but at camp you slept on top of your already-made bed, thankful to be shivering under a thin blanket rather than be scrambling to remake the bed during the next morning’s hustle. And that’s already assuming that you weren’t sleeping on the cold, hard ground.

Back in K-vegas, where I go to school, I couldn’t ask for a better roomie (that’s you, DM Redbeard). And it seems I lucked out twice: my roommate is a Puerto Rican named Jose Raymond Santiago. Santiago was in my platoon at camp, and I couldn’t really ask for a better CTLT roomie. He doesn’t steal any of my TA-50 (stuff), he racks out about the same time I do, and he’s always up for going and getting something to eat. I tell you what, after five weeks of Army food, I was ready all of it: gagburgers, gutbombs, french fries, greasy pizza, grapefruit, Juicy Fruit… [I] committed a little mortal sin. It’s good for my soul.

Living at Gateway isn’t great, but I can’t complain – CTLTing is predominately a 9-to-5 job, meaning we’ve got a time to decompress a little bit of the combat fatigue leftover from Camp, we get absolutely glorious amounts of shut-eye, but we still stay busy enough to make the time pass.

Now, then – that’s the setup, these are the stories:

I, for totally trivial reasons, had to make at appearance at the hospital during my second week. During the sign-in process, they asked for rank and I, being a Cadet, marked CDT (as I had a thousand other times on a thousand other forms) and thought nothing of it. When I turned the form back in, the receptionist looked at me a little funny, which should have alerted me that something was off. But it wasn’t until, 40 minutes later, a nurse opened the door and called for “Captain Fenton,” that I figured out something was, indeed, off. Captains in the Army usually have, say, 7+ years experience, and spend sometime in charge of a company (160ish soldiers). Cadets, on the other hand, have a few months experience, and we usually spend sometime in charge of other Cadets.

So, after scanning the waiting room, wondering if maybe my Dad had a real high-speed brother I didn’t know about (My mom has a high-speed brother, whose names is also frequently preceded by “Captain,” but I already know about him), I explained to the Nurse that, while I wrote “cDt,” the receptionist must’ve read “cPt.” The Nurse then explained to me that I was in the system as “CPT,” and that wasn’t about to change, and congratulations on being the only 21 year old Captain in the Army of this Grand Republic. I was promptly demoted upon exiting the hospital.

On one of the 249’s slower days, I got a chance to spend some time with a Topography Engineer unit on the other side of base. I got paired with LT Smith, who went to West Point and really changed my perspective on Pointers. Before him, the three or so West Point graduates I’d met had epitomized the Type A, Lieutenant-Never-Give-Up stereotype. LT Smith, though, was laid back, relaxed, and entirely squared away.

The Topo company was split into four platoons – a Survey platoon, a Terrain platoon, a Production platoon, and a Headquarters platoon. I saw a little bit of them all, but spent most of my time with LT Smith and the Survey platoon. They’ve got a lot of real high-speed and rugged GPS equipment, which they use to plot points on the ground, mostly in the construction of airfields. Since FAA regulations stipulate that all airfields must be re-surveyed every 5 years, they keep busy with a lot of traveling/training.

Since they were getting ready for a trip down to FT Hood, Texas next week, they were unpacking and testing all their equipment, and they let me play with a bit. What they do is really pretty incredible – they can, quite literally, take a dime-sized spot on the ground and give you coordinates with “sub-millimeter accuracy.” That’s crazy and what’s crazier is that, when they work in conjunction with the rest of their Battalion, they only need 72 hours to transform a big old piece of terrain (forest, desert, whatever) into an airstrip (clear it, survey it, pack it, set up defenses, etc) capable of landing a fleet of fully loaded C-130s (big old planes you can fit a few tanks into).

As far as traveling goes, there wasn’t much. Our first weekend up was a three day, and we spent it in South Carolina. We hit up Charleston, Myrtle Beach, and Wilmington (where they filmed Dawson‘s Creek). I was joined by three other cadets, including my roommate, Santagio.

Now I don’t mind group traveling but in my experience, anything more than three makes for trouble. But there are certain undeniable benefits – shelter costs are split, it’s a bit easier to talk to locals, etc. I won’t say they slowed me down, but I will say they slept in few hours longer than I did, they didn’t like to drive more than 100 miles at a time, they wanted to stop at every store we saw and one of them was cell phoning it about half of his waking hours. The trip still went alright, and we got to see some real cool stuff, but I did break my own rules and I paid for it. Starting with, of course, the Cardinal Rule of Fentonian Travel: invite others to travel with you, but don’t break your plans for man, woman, or beast.

The funniest thing that happened on the trip happened in the South Carolina welcoming center, which is a little funny in-and-of-itself. None of the workers would talk about anything outside of South Carolina, and they shushed me anytime I asked. Still, I persisted and when I finally convinced the girl helping me to thumbs-up or thumbs-down a town right over the border, she made me promise I wouldn’t tell anyone (who would I tell?). If it sounds stupid to you, I suppose the hilarity is in the immediacy.

I also wandered into competing in the FT Bragg Invitational Swim Meet, which was a lot of fun. I was asked if I could swim on a Friday (I said I could). They didn’t tell me the meet was on Tuesday. Which was sort of bothersome, especially since Alcatraz was three years ago and I’ve been dry ever since. But a lack of swimming doesn’t correlate to a lack of exercise, and I keep in pretty good shape. The meet was spread out over two days, and I raced four events each day.

There was a time when I took swimming very, very seriously. I lived for the meets; the feel of the water, the thrill of competition, the stench of chlorine. But all that is behind me, and it was an altogether different experience, swimming for “just the fun of it.” I swam with two LTs and a few Joes under the 30th Engineer’s roster (including two relays), and we didn’t do to bad for ourselves. Especially considering that I got lost on my way there, running on deck just as they were clearing the pool to start the meet, so I started the meet sans warm-up, which was a bit daunting. But I preserved, got some medals, and had a jolly good time. The big competition was some soldiers from a Special Forces Training Group, which was a bit intimidating (only until I beat them, I mean….).

Our next trip was up to the Capitol area. It was a four hour drive to Richmond, Virgina and a two hour train ride from there to the District. Despite the opinions of some of the women I’ve dated, I’m not stupid enough to drive into DC. My roommate, being from Puerto Rico, wanted to see all the sights (I’ve been) so we did, and it was cool. We stayed in a funky little hostel in the Georgetown suburbs, sampled the nightlife, woke up, saw the rest of the sights, and went home. It was a pretty quick (30-odd hours) trip.

CTLT, in closing, wasn’t bad. Camp seems like it was years ago, and a lot of suck. In the end, it was just something I had to go through to get to where I wanted. But CTLT was something fun. I learned (a lot), I got to see a few parachute drops, I sat in on a few teleconferences with Germany and Iraq, and I did a lot of playing around with some really cool Engineer equipment.

And, as if this writeup wasn’t long enough, I’d like to take a paragraph to explain all the switcheroos surrounding my moniker. It’s a long-ish story that starts, ironically enough, with a little drinking. I swear I’m not the boozebag I make myself out to be, but that’s how it starts. I stayed a little to long in that familiar phase where you begin to think you’re the smartest guy in the entire world, and I wound up concluding a number of things:

that the purpose of a name is to distinguish human beings from other human beings -> that running into (on that particular day) three other humans called “Josh” defeated the purpose of that particular name -> that my middle name, Kirk, would now serve as my first name -> that, as a man of action, I needed to make the world immediately aware of this Change Of Plans

And that is the story of how and why I changed my name on Facebook and my banking statements. Yet, after a bit of thought and two instances of fellow cadets correctly guessing my first name (apparently I’ve got that “Josh” look), I have re-embraced my Josh-hood with… how do you say?… panache. Josh is my generation’s everyman; the common name of those that I will defend, write about, and represent, if life allows me the slightest opportunity to do so. I have, in closing, made note of those that supported my freedom of name-choice and those that did not. I will hold grudges accordingly.

Having said that, I must admit that I’m very excited to make it back to Kirksville. All this Armying has it’s place, and now it’s time to start wearing civilian clothes (although I will miss all the handy pockets: for the last two Saturdays, I’ve caught myself more than once reaching for things in pockets that aren’t there). It’s time to get back to that college environment – to see all my great MOpals, breathe that sweet Missouri air, do a bit of late-night socializing and all those things other stupid/smart things.

edit: Let me tell you a little bit about my aunt Jennifer. I visited FT Bragg almost exactly a year ago, under the auspices of training with my Uncle. The weather in Fayetteville went south, and my flight was canceled for three solid days. Jennifer bent over backwards two or three times to get me back to Portland and, consequently, off to Sydney. Even now, twelve months later, I still cannot express my gratitude enough.

I am now, through curious circumstance, writing this in the Fayetteville airport and stuck in much the same situation. My flights have all been jumbled up and my choices came down to A) wait a day or B) fly into St. Louis and footmarch it up to Kirksville. Remember when I said my roomie, DM Redbeard, was a top shelf guy? Well he, Kelly, Mary and I are thick as thieves, basically. Kelly and DM drove down to pick me up and take me back (six hours, round trip). Mary, who lives in St. Louis now, meet us all at the airport, and it felt pretty good, seeing all my hombres as I stepped off that plane.

JOSH fenton

let's lose charley