Patchology: Saddleback Butte

As the Summer turns to fall, the shores turn chill and the hillsides to tinder, the eyes of the camper (and Scoutmaster) turn toward the desert. October through March is prime camping time in California’s arid regions. Days are comfortable, nights are chilly but not arctic, and enough animals are active during the day to make hiking more than a long walk.

One of my favorite places in the desert is Saddleback Butte State Park, a modest, Joshua Tree-girt peak located in the heart of a triangle between Palmdale, Victorville, and Edwards Air Force Base. The campsites are mostly primitive, but there are toilets and showers, making extended stays possible.

I have been twice, and only on the last trip – in early 2020 – was I in the kind of shape to take on the crest of the Butte. It’s about a 1,200′ rise in about 4 miles, but the altitude is enough to tucker someone in poor shape, and the last 100 feet is a scramble not far from some fairly sheer cliffs. Summiting this modest promontory was more satisfying that I had imagined it would be, and vistas from Palmdale to east to Victorville and Edwards south to the ridges behind Wrigtwood on a bright and clear day were a huge payoff. I only regret not having taking better pictures.

I rewarded myself and my scouts with the above patch, purchased from the park gift shop in a trailer at the north end of the park, just as I had watched my predecessor do on our last trip.

This will go on a brag rag of some sort, either a blanket or a shirt. Either way, it is a favorite. I hope to go back soon: the campground is a delight and worth the drive.

Patchology: Presidential Champion

Back in July I talked about how important the President’s Challenge and the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) were to me changing my thinking and my lifestyle, to getting me off my ass, off of fast food, and onto a much better life.

After earning the PALA four times, I decided to take on a much tougher challenge, the Presidential Champions Award. I managed to make it to the Bronze Award finally in 2016 year, and was starting work on Silver when the program was terminated in August 2017 by a President for whom “fitness” was, apparently, a four-letter word. 

So I am doubly proud of this award, which is the highest recognition that I have received for any physical activity since I was in High School. It took me the better part of a year to complete the requirements, and by the time I had completed it, fitness had become a part of my life, rather than something that intimidated me.

Patchology: Hometown Heroes

I grew up watching Emergency! from age seven to fourteen, alternating throughout between a simple buff and wanting to be a firefighter. It seems I have chosen the former path, and as a part of that collect patches of fire departments that are relevant to me.

This shoulder patch, worn by the Los Angeles County Fire Department paramedics in the show, naturally belongs at the top of my collection, since it commemorates when my fascination with firefighting began.

Patchology: REI and National Parks

Over the years I have managed to make it to Channel Islands, Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, and Yosemite, along with a small handful of National Monuments, National Historical Sites, and National Historical Parks. In short, I have seen only a tiny fraction of this great legacy, so I am artfully weaving the units of the National Park System into my upcoming travels.

And for the record, there will be no “27 parks in 54 days” for me, thanks: I am planning on taking it slow. These parks were not created to be seen as much as to be experienced. The point is to go to one of these places, grok it in full, and make it a part of who you are. 

I’ll wear this patch on my civilian Jac-Shirt, a promise to myself to keep true to this spirit.                                               

Patchology: The First Goal on The Journey

I suppose that the prospect of a healthy life should be adequate incentive for the obese to get off their butts and change their lifestyles. As a former member of that crowd, I can attest that experience and statistics suggest otherwise. Sometimes you need a big incentive to get you off of a couch. And sometimes you just need a 4″ x 4″ strip of embroidered cloth.

Offering any reasonable incentive to entice people out of McDonald’s and off the couch is not only a good investment in public health, it also begins a virtuous cycle. Getting people addicted to earned achievement instead of instant gratification is a very different kettle of fish than rewarding mediocrity, especially if you build a program that rewards higher and higher levels of participation and achievement.

When I first started to work toward this patch, I weighed somewhere north of 360 lbs., which even on my 2m high frame made me obese. Given that for a long time I refused to step on a scale, I may well have been “morbidly obese.” Today I weigh 216 lbs., have a BMI of 24, and am healthier at 57 than I was at 35 in good part due to the President’s Challenge, of which the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, or PALA, was a part. The act of exercising regularly, recording the foods you eat, and gradually replacing less healthy foods with healthier choices is a powerful start, and was my ladder to a place that I always felt – and, indeed, was often told by professionals who should have known better – was beyond me.

I earned the award four times in the five years, and subsequently used it as a stepping stone to higher achievements. But I can honestly say that this program probably saved my life and my marriage.

It is one of my proudest achievements, and I will wear this patch on my BSA Jac-shirt with pride.

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