nic fouts

the many sides

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 8

Dear Sabbatical,

It’s officially over. Well, the road trip part of you. After 6,298 miles I’m back home. You threw a ton of horrible obstacles in my way. You took what was supposed to be a fun and quiet time and made it resemble nothing of the sort. But that’s fine. I survived and now I’m at home, where I get to spend two full weeks doing all the things I was supposed to do in Canada. Well, all that plus fixing those problems you threw at me. A few couldn’t be fixed on the road, but now I have my garage so nothing is off limits.

Part of my dilemma now is determining who I tell about my early return to the country. The fewer people that I tell, the easier it is to remain a hermit and not go into public. However, since I’m back, there are some public things that I might like to do. Which means telling those people, which spreads the knowledge around.

But for now, I’m unpacking the Mango and the trailer. Both of which still need a good wash. Maybe that’s a good task for the middle of this week.

July 6th, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 7

Dear Sabbatical,

I’m in Winnipeg. Spitting distance, really, from home. Given a final big push, I’m sure I could be home tomorrow night. I’ve been getting up around 6am most days, so an early start could be arranged. Now that I’ve calmed down for a few days (although things are still attempting to rile me back up), I’m considering whether I want to burn some more days “in country” to rack up reimbursement money. The problem is that I’m limping along already. The solar charging didn’t charge the batteries enough, so last night the beeping returned around midnight. The on-board water is still empty, so that’s still miserable. I’m south enough now that it’s hot and humid during the day, so without power the warmth is not fun. One thing I hadn’t counted on as much as I should have is just how crappy the bed in this trailer is. On a whim, I even got one of those memory foam topper things, but it still isn’t enough. Being back home with my nice, real bed would be a good way to end this misery.

I think it’s time to just pack it in and call it what it is: over. A sabbatical is supposed to be a fun time, full of adventure and exploration. My adventure was cut short because of reasons, and it’s no longer fun. Why prolong this suffering when I can just be at home?

July 3rd, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 6

Dear Sabbatical,

I’m smarter than you. At least, I am when I’m not thoroughly pissed off. I figured out what all that beeping racket was about last night. It’s apparently a “safety” feature. The battery on the trailer was low (11 volts), so the temperature control unit was alerting that it couldn’t function properly. Since everything runs on 12 volts, that makes sense. Really, 12 volt nomenclature is misleading but 11 volts is far too low. Even my 12 volt laptop charger won’t work below 12.2 volts.

Which just points out another reason this trip was doomed from the start. The company I bought the trailer from was supposed to wire up Mango with a 7-pin trailer connection, because they were also going to install a brake controller. The day we scheduled that to happen was also their first busy day of the season, so they “suggested” just installing a trailer-mounted brake controller that would use signals from the existing 4-wire harness. That sounded fine, in theory. But one key feature of the 7-pin connector is that it also CHARGES the trailer battery while driving. So last night’s mishap wouldn’t have happened if the original plan was in place, and the trailer charged all day while I was driving.

So fine. In reality, even this was kind of part of the plan. I wouldn’t have been driving ALL the time, so there’s a back-up to charging the trailer. I’ve got a solar panel, and even a real generator, just in case. The generator is a lot of hassle to just use for a little while, so solar panel it is. That does mean it takes longer to charge up, but maybe that’s not so bad. I’m not parked where I wanted to, but I’m burning more time in Canada so I’m basically getting paid for it. While the solar panel soaks up the Canadian sunlight, I’m inside catching up on more of those books I’ve talked so much about. Maybe I’ll take a nap, too.

July 2nd, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 5

Dear Sabbatical,

I hate you. We’re through.

That’s right. At 8am today, I had enough. I stopped after a few hours of driving for a piss and some pictures. Walking back to the rig I was doing my once-over review and realized a headlight was out. A $400 headlight. These aren’t supposed to go out (which is why I was fine paying $800 for the pair). That was the straw that broke Mango’s back. Yesterday a rock kicked up by a semi shattered the center of the windshield. Dead center. Well, 3 inches to the left of center, but who’s counting besides me?

So that’s it. At 8am this morning I cancelled whatever instruction the GPS had and pushed the “take me home” button. (Yes, it really has that button.) I no longer care how much reimbursement money I can get if I sit out here and do nothing. I’ve already sunk what I’ve paid for supplies, but most of those can still be used around home. Fuel cost is going to be the biggest factor here, but I can manage that. The new, unforeseen expenses are the new windshield and headlight. But I’m more worried about the time it’s going to take to do the work to replace those. By heading home now I should have about 2 weeks before work starts up again. I’ll be able to use that time to give the Mango a once over and get repairs figured out.

Mango really isn’t designed for this kind of a trip, at least not hauling what he is. There were days when he didn’t get out of 3rd or 4th gear because of the mountains, and he really didn’t like that. He’s done an admirable job trying to keep up so far, but it needs to just be over. So I’m taking him home and letting him rest. I’m sure I’ll find time to rest as well.

July 1st, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 4

Dear Sabbatical,

I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to make today even worse. After a long day’s drive, I’m parked for the evening. (Driving with one headlight is a bad idea, donchaknow!) Since I’m not fully tired, I’m sitting here reading some of the books I’m supposed to be reading by a lake somewhere. A few chapters in and all of a sudden this very loud beeping sound is coming from the front of my trailer. It sounded like the smoke detector, so I pull the battery out of it. What good is a detector if nothing in here works, anyway? That doesn’t kill the beeping sound, so I shut down every breaker in the electrical panel. Still.. beeping. The only thing left alive is the temperature control unit, which seems to be hardwired to the battery. So, battery disconnect switch it is.

Finally, the beeping is gone. But so is all the power. This means I don’t have lights for the night. Or the ability to charge my cellphone and watch. Neither are super necessary, but I’ve grown accustomed to having them fully charged in the mornings so tomorrow is not going to start on the most cheerful of notes. Tomorrow I’ll deal with WHY the beeping started in the first place. I can’t handle any more of anything today.

I knew this day wouldn’t leave it’s vacuous sucking within its calendar walls. Tomorrow gets to blow, too!

June 30th, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 3

Dear Sabbatical,

After visiting Destruction Bay yesterday, things have appeared to have gone down hill. The little hideaway campsite I found yesterday was great and all, but some dumbass didn’t take it as a bad sign that the lake was still covered in ice. It got down below freezing during the overnight. I’m not sure how low, but at 6am when it had started to warm up since the sun was out, it was at 31 degrees. I got up at 3am to pee and instantly began shivering when I climbed out of the sleeping bag. That was a great start to my morning. I pulled an extra hoodie from the Mango and darted back into the sleeping bag. After that point, it wasn’t so bad. I made sure to stay wrapped up tight in the covers, though.

The cold morning reminded me that my camper does have a heater, so a smart person would have probably tested that out on a night like that. Honestly, though, it had only been down in the 45’s the previous couple of nights and that wasn’t so bad. But last night was bad.

Ok, so that problem is solved by both USING the supplied heater and heading south toward Vancouver. Or somewhere else in British Columbia near the coast. As long as it’s over 45 then I seem to be alright. What else has gone wrong today? Well, I realize I hate this camper. Maybe I’m just overly picky, or maybe I just got a bad one, but shit has been going wrong from the start. Day 2 into the journey and the key snaps off in the side door lock while trying to open the door. Being the nifty guy that I am, I was able to pull the broken piece out of the key way and, of course, had the second key on hand. But now I have a lock that has shown to bust keys and ONLY ONE KEY LEFT. Turns out, that day was a holiday in Canada so all the locksmiths who could cut me a spare were closed. After carefully testing out the door, I realized it’s a design flaw in the way the latch and handle line up. If you lift the door while operating the lock, then it works better. Because that’s what you want in a $24,000 camper, the need to lift doors so you don’t snap keys.

Whatever, a little aftermarket engineering and persuasion and I’m able to fix it well enough. What else is wrong with this thing? Realizing that the NASA engineers who designed this thing might not know the most about RV engineering, I began noticing that there are several design flaws in the storage mechanisms. I thought I was just being picky with where I wanted my gear to go, but there’s a fundamental flaw in the trailer design if you use all the available storage. It’s tail heavy, meaning it will cause your vehicle to be unbalanced and not roadworthy. Thankfully, I’m smart and packed around this limitation. Other people won’t notice and bad things are going to happen.

That’s all that could be wrong, right? Well, after driving down the highway for several hours, I stopped somewhere and just happened to glance at the back end. Apparently the highway wind is enough to loosen the support jack so it was hanging halfway down to the pavement. If I’d not noticed that before hitting a campsite, it would absolutely have snapped off. I tightened it back up nice and snug and it seems to have fixed it for now.

Alright, another disaster averted, what’s next? That’s three, so there can’t possibly be more. Oh no, you’d be wrong. Remember how the highway wind loosened the stabilizer jack? Well, guess what else it loosened today. The release valve on the water storage tank. Yep, all 12 gallons of water lost to the highway. I was leaving a rest stop when I noticed a puddle under the trailer. Down in the dirt to confirm that I’m now out of water. Great.

Speaking of water, I forgot to talk about this one because it pissed me off so much. The other day when I was sitting at a little beach-side hideaway, I decided to test out the shower since my hair was getting pretty gnarly. I was secluded enough that I didn’t bother with the tent. After setting up the plumbing stuff, I flipped on the water pump and test the sink. Water comes out, that’s a good sign. I turn off the water pump to figure out where my shampoo and towel are. Finally ready, I go to turn the pump back on. Before I do, I notice that there is water all over the floor inside the camper. Ok, shower on hold. Now I’ve torn apart the entire front cabinet (because of course I brought tools), and discover one of the water hoses that connects to the heater is leaking. 10 minutes of fussing with that (and then 15 minutes of water cleanup) it looks like I have everything fixed. I’m guessing that road vibrations shook it loose, but I don’t know. I didn’t fire it up before I left home, so I can’t even be sure it was working then.

Regardless, that’s three major things wrong and a few other annoying things not quite right. I’m 6 days into a 30 day trip, so we’ll see how much else I have to fix before I’m back home.

Can I just go home now?

June 28th, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 2

Dear Sabbatical,

I did it. I drove 3,174 miles from Madison, Wisconsin to Destruction Bay, Yukon. I left Madison on Sunday at 11:14 AM and arrived here today at 7:10 PM local. Nearly five and a half calendar days. I obviously stopped a few times along the way. Actual driving time was 61 hours and 58 minutes, as measured by the Mango’s engine computer. So what did I do? I took a few pictures and left. I’m now on the other side of the lake. I found a secluded little road that is apparently used by maintenance workers to funnel the tributary creeks into the lake. It’s basically a man-made valley of rock and gravel that captures the creek and directs it where it’s wanted. Kind of clever. Also makes for a nice little hideaway for idiots who decide on a long ass road trip without scheduling out campsites along the way.

Which, let’s be honest. If I’d scheduled out campsites that means I would have actually had a schedule, and that would have sucked. I at least liked the ability to direct my day and route based on how I felt. I stopped if something was interesting enough, and I didn’t stay if I decided it wasn’t that interesting after all. Kind of like Destruction Bay. There’s really nothing there except for an RV park, a gas station, and a maintenance facility (I assume for the road ways and the aforementioned lake management). It’s not even really on the lake. It’s lake adjacent, at best. So I didn’t stay. I noticed this side road on my way into town and decided that this could be a good place to camp if I needed it. Turns out, I needed it.

But now that I’ve made it to my destination, what do I do? From here, I can probably make it back to Madison in as little as 4 days. I stopped more than necessary on the way up here, so I’m sure I could trim the day if I had to. Assuming I want to leave the buffer and have 5 days, that gives me 18 days unaccounted for. Do I sit in my lake-side hideaway for the next 2 weeks and then make the beeline home? I probably want to head down the British Columbia coast for at least a little while.

Honestly, a part of me just wants to turn around and head home now. The part of my brain that is always yelling about how much is partially completed at home is acting up. There’s always so much left to do. Having 2 weeks where people don’t expect me to be at home or to do things means I could be so productive. Really, I had that thought during day 3 of driving. It really is a VERY long drive up here, and not all that fun of one around the middle. No matter what I do, a different route going home is required.

June 27th, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Dear Sabbatical: Entry 1

Dear Sabbatical,

It’s Thursday, which I think means I’ve been on the road for 4 days. Or 5, I’m not sure which. I left on Sunday, so technically 4 whole days since I’m just getting started on day 5. But I’m within 900 miles of my first “official” destination. That’s the good news. The bad news is that GPS says it will take over 22 hours to get there. It didn’t take that long to make it the first 2000 miles, which means this should be interesting driving.

Speaking of interesting driving, that’s part of why I’m talking to you right now. As I’ve spent the last few days alone in my head I’ve come to realize that I need some sort of creative outlet. Even if it’s just a tiny one. Twitter has largely been that trickle outlet for a while. Without access to internet up here, that outlet has been plugged. I find myself thinking of little quips to send out, but then realizing that it’s worthless. Poems rattle around in my head, but there’s not enough cohesiveness to make anything out of them. I need to sit with them and let the words pour somewhere.

Which brings us to now. I’m sitting, literally on the side of a mountain, in the Cricket (which I should consider naming), pounding out an entry because I need the words to go somewhere. I’ve been listening to some new music on this trip and Sirius XM has been trying to force me to listen to Rock on the Range performances on Octane. I’ve discovered that Linkin Park’s new album is crap. There is one good song, but Octane won’t play it because it’s not really a rock song. The reason I bring up music at all is because it’s another form of creative outlet. But the live performances from ROTR remind me that it’s a crappy situation. I despise live music, probably for much the same reason that I don’t like covers. It’s… off. Wrong. When an album is recorded, lots of people put a lot of effort into making it sound pleasant (usually). When it’s live, that’s all gone. You’re left with the raw talent (or lack there of, often) and it’s not the same. It’s not always musically bad, but it’s not what I’m familiar with. Some people thrive off that raw retelling, but I can’t. It’s like a painter taking a beautiful masterpiece that he spent countless hours perfecting and trying to re-create it in 30 minutes with watercolors. It’s never going to be as good as the original. So it’s a crappy situation because where the creativity is the purest (maybe?) is where I hate it the most. I think that’s a large part of why I don’t have an outlet there.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just jealous. Maybe I’m cranky because I haven’t had my normal outlets. Whatever it is, I’ll need to ponder it some more from behind the wheel of the Jeep. There’s lots of driving left to do. Some idiot decided this road trip was a good idea. Someone should smack that guy.

EDIT: I’ve listened to Linkin Park’s album some more over the last few days because I WANT to like it. There are now two songs that I look forward to hearing, up from just one previously. A few others have good lyrics. But what every single one of them is missing is good music. Linkin Park DEFINED the Nu Metal genre, and has had a history of being awesome. However, this album, it’s just so… poppy. Hell, there are finger snaps on the first track! Snapping! And the music is far too happy for what the lyrics are really trying to say. I don’t know why this post became an outlet for my anger on Linkin Park, but I guess that’s where we live now.

June 26th, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
–Stevie Wonder

Of all things, today’s cafeteria menu dug up an old memory.  The memory of the first time I can remember failing.  It’s a moment that the adults around me didn’t understand and I never corrected them.  I’ve actually never told ANYONE about this.  Twenty-seven years later, that memory popped into my head during a time of my life when I need reminded that failure isn’t always bad.  So what does a five-year-old fail at?

I couldn’t eat an onion.

Some context is probably necessary.  I knew for a while before this that I didn’t like onions.  I don’t know how many I tried or when, but I KNEW I didn’t like onions.  One day, in Kindergarten for lunch we had a side of green beans (or something like that) and pearl onions.  I sat there by myself, as I always did, and ate everything else that looked good.  Then I stared at these little round white balls.  I told myself I had to eat one of them.  This was to be my way of showing myself that I could do anything.  I stabbed one with my fork and held it in front of my face.  I remember a few tries at putting it in my mouth, but every attempt ended with my hand deciding that it just belonged on the plate.  After a few minutes of this I began to cry.  A teacher saw my breakdown and took me aside.  The teachers knew that my parents were out of town for a few weeks and assumed that I just missed them.  I don’t remember the exact chain of events after that, but I ended up in the front office and my grandmother eventually came.  After that, the rest of that day is gone.  Nobody knew what was really wrong except for me.

I still have no idea why I pushed myself that day.  I guess even a completely internal failure has repercussions.  I think that fateful day set the tone for many years to come.  It’s likely the reason I’m so afraid of failure.  When you’re afraid of failure, there are two outcomes.  You either decide that failure isn’t an option and push harder or you calculate what your failure odds are and don’t try if they’re low.  The next few years were a mixture of these two philosophies, with a heavy skew toward calculations.

The last six to twelve months have dealt with themes of failure more than I would like.  But the mere fact that these chances for failure existed means that I’ve let go of my calculations and have started just existing.  I’ve been hurt in the process, but without that risk you can’t hope to get the reward.  If you never try, you can’t succeed.  “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Faced with this deep dark memory, I stabbed one of those little Shrek bundles today at lunch and stared it down.  I saw that little white orb as the embodiment of my childhood failures, just staring me in the face.  I finally got a rematch and this time I could defeat that monster.  But just one… those things are nasty.

March 28th, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments

Give it More Thought

“If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind, give it more thought.”
–Dennis Roth

I don’t actually know what I have on my mind tonight.  A lot has happened since the last time we talked, but I don’t really have it all processed yet.  I’m probably just postponing that processing because I’m afraid of what it will uncover.  Maybe now is the time to go on that adventure.

So, big ticket items (somewhat in order):

  • I started mentoring a high school robotics team.
  • The relationship I was in last year ended.
  • I bought a bunch of new tools.
  • I actually scheduled my sabbatical.
  • I changed teams at work.
  • I started dating someone new.

Just typing that list kind of makes me want to stop.  There’s a lot to unpack there.

Robotics.  The first one is kind of easy.  Easy to talk about at least.  It’s a lot of work otherwise.  It’s the same program I did while I was in high school, so it just felt right that I should give back a little and help these kids have the experiences that I did.  I joined up several months ago because of an open house event, but the real fun began at the beginning of this year.  “Build Season” as it’s known started on 1/7.  That’s when the game is unveiled and we began the real work for this year.  We’ve met six days a week since then so my life has been basically non-stop “ON” since the year began.  In the last week or so, a few of them have started calling me Nifty Nic, so I guess that’s who I am now.

Dating.  The relationship ending was an amicable event, but it wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.  I suppose any breakup isn’t going to be an easy thing.  At least, not if the relationship was worth anything to begin with.  I’m not entirely certain where it would have ended up if this didn’t happen, but it was all spurred on by her leaving the country in early January.  On her last night in Madison we talked for a bit while cleaning out her apartment and decided that long distance wasn’t going to work.  I knew for a while that this moment was coming, but it didn’t change how difficult that evening was.  In the end, I think it was the right choice.  Our paths were on different trajectories, so it was probably for the best.

Tools.  If you’re surprised that I bought tools, I’m going to question who you are and who you think I am.  I buy tools all the time.  I’ve actually been buying a ton of tools for the robotics team, but that’s a different story.  These tools are for me.  But they’re not your average hammer and drill kind of tools.  These are industrial-grade tools redesigned for residential use.  I bought a laser cutter and a water jet cutter: the Glowforge and the Wazer.  Go google them, I’ll be here when you get back.  Both come from Kickstarter, but I only bought the latter directly from the campaign.  I was turned on to the Glowforge because of a Facebook advertisement.  (I know.  I’m disappointed in myself, as well.)  Both allow me to expand my manufacturing ability within my own house.  I already have a vast array of hand tools, standard power tools, a CNC router, and a 3D printer.  But there are still things that I can’t effectively do with JUST these.  I have zero practical need for them, but I’m sure as hell going to use them once they arrive.  At least, that’s the plan.  We’ll see what happens in the next six months or so.

Sabbatical.  If you’ve just tuned into the Nic Network and have no idea what I’m talking about, this is the perk my work offers.  Every 5 years you are eligible for a 4-week trip (on top of normal vacation and whatnot).  (Even though I’m going to hit 8 years this week, I still haven’t taken my 5-year trip.)  If the trip is to a country you’ve not been to before then they pay for part of it (or all of it, depending on what you’re doing, I suppose).  The details are complex, but it’s safe to say that everybody uses it because it’s worth it.  For me, that means going on a camping road trip through Canada.  I’m planning to buy a camper trailer that the Mango can haul and just go off-grid as much as possible.  For those of you that just read this blog you might be wondering how that’s different than normal, I’m routinely gone for months at a time.  For everybody else, you know I’m one of the most-connected people in the world.  I always have my iPhone, Apple Watch, laptop, Mi-Fi, etc.  Hell, I have 8 computers in this room alone.  To spend a month away from humanity and the grip that technology has on it is going to be quite interesting.  It doesn’t hurt that I’m planning to head back toward that beautiful place I was in last May.  (Look at the last post if you’re lost.)  I’ll be taking a computer to write with, but I’ll be highly surprised if I find any internet to post those writings.  It took a huge amount of effort to come back after spending just 4 days in Alaska last year.  I have no idea what will happen after a month in the Canadian wilderness.  I’ll have the Mango and a place to sleep, what could go wrong?

Work.  After years of being highly unhappy with what I was doing, I finally had enough.  I snapped one day and complained to the right person, I guess.  Within the week, we had transfer plans set up and a new team picked out.  There were a lot of tears from co-workers and customers when it was announced, but I think it is the right thing.  I’ve been on the new team for a couple of weeks now and my stress level is a thousand times better.  I never HATED going to work when I was in my old role, but the stress of that job was becoming too much.  Internal and external people relied on me more than was probably healthy, for both everyone.  It’s been far too long since I’ve been the least knowledgeable person on a team.  While that creates it’s own challenges, it’s far less taxing than being the single person that everyone comes to with problems.  I’m cautiously optimistic that this will end up being a good thing.  Time will tell, I suppose.

Dating.  It’s a bit interesting that this post is basically book-ended by discussions of my relationships.  Until last year, it had been nearly a decade since I’d been in a real relationship.  Not that there weren’t those that tried (or that I tried for), but nothing real ever actually happened.  (The reasons why that is are perhaps topics for my autobiography, or a therapist.  Who can say?)  Regardless, whatever this is is still in its early stages.  We’ve only been on a handful of dates.  Our first date was to go to a monster truck rally, so it probably qualifies as my most unique first date ever.  From what I can tell, I think it’s going well, but this week has started to make me question that assumption a little.  We just feel more distant in text conversations, or something like that.  I don’t know.  My brain likes to imagine the worst case scenario when presented with a lack of information.  The only evolutionary reason I can figure for that is that if you mentally prepare for the worse case, then reality probably won’t be as bad.  Thus tempering the actual event you’ll go through.  However, it COMPLETELY fails to take into account the anxiety it unleashes by making wild accusations that turn out to be entirely off base.  (At least, some of the time.)  All I really do know is that I’m completely baffled at how things have gotten this far.  She is so far out of my league that I feel like I have to be on an episode of Punk’d.  I know it’s been a decade since that show last aired, but this is the kind of thing they’d reboot that show for.  Contrary to what I project into semi-anonymous public spaces, I’m not nearly interesting enough for this person to like me.  Maybe tomorrow’s date will finally fix the universe and reveal the cameras.  Maybe it won’t and I’ll be forced to continue with the happy ignorance that is my life.  I suppose worse things have happened.


In preparation for writing this post, I re-read my latest entry.  I’m in such a different head-space from when I wrote that, that I can’t even remember stringing those sentences together.  However, I can recall the raw emotion behind each one.  I can’t make it through that post without pausing to push back the tears of history.  As happy as I’ve felt over the last few weeks, I can’t help but see the darkness and fear underneath.  I’ll never be good enough for myself, but maybe the world has lower standards than I do.

“The road ended and I kept going.  (Like I always do.)”

March 2nd, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | no comments