Midnight adventures with the “Human Bloodhound” Nov 3 2016

Haven’t written in this blog for awhile.

Setting the scene

As you may know, I used to go backpacking with a young woman who now owns a house bounded on three sides by Acadia National Park. It’s on a major travel route, but that means nothing – for nine months of the year you could have a picnic on the divider line and not need to move for passing cars. It’s rural, in other words.

The house was renovated a few years back and the septic system includes a leach field that is uphill from the house. This is key to grasp the outcome of the story. In order to move the sewage to the leach field, there is an uphill pumping system. The simple act of using the bathroom includes the defiance of gravity, an immutable force of nature. This is a high point of American technology. What have we, as a civilization, come to?

Also, this particular young lady’s boyfriend is an electrical engineer whose parents were “back to the land” – self-reliant, do-it-yourself home repair devotees.

Finally, she never goes into the cellar. Ever. 

“It’s spooky down there. Creepy.” Last winter, she got through four months without going down there, not even one time. Low rumblings would emanate from there and she imagined a monster of some kind. And put the sounds out of her consciousness.

Three months ago I did go into the cellar, and cleaned out the “French drain” on the floor – the small trench on the edges of the floor that channels rainwater out a pipe on the downhill side that used to connect to the old septic.  The boyfriend hooked up a de-humidifier. Finally, after a year of roofing, wiring, digging, painting, and updating, we were getting to fix up the systems in the cellar.

Dogs and humans

And did I mention her old nickname? “The Human Bloodhound?” along the left-to-right spectrum of possible human genetics, her olfactory nerve is to the extreme right, probably exceeding the sensitivity of some unfortunate canines that might be on the extreme left (the low end) of the smelling ability of dogs. As a species, the survival of  homo sapiens stopped relying on the sense of smell long ago. But sometimes the smell-gene expresses itself – no, bestows itself– on a person when you least expect it. I’ve previously advised her that she could be famous in the perfume industry or perhaps as a cigar tester or wine expert. To say nothing of working at an airport sniffing out drugs or bombs. And of course, the sense of smell is nothing if not cultivated and trained.

On to the story!

I got a call at 9:32 PM

“The toilet is backed up.”  an unspoken urgency filled a pause….. I need a knight in shining armor, is what she really meant.


This is who I actually am, especially when a damozel in distress seeks my aid.

“I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

I exist to serve. It was easy for me to get into my overalls, say goodbye to my two dogs, and hop in the pickup. I was at her house in eight minutes. I live for opportunities to prove my manhood, just like this!

Actually, it was more like this:

I’m an old Jedi. I’ve been to the Dark Side – working with sewage – and I will happily impart my wisdom. If I was going to need to jump into a septic tank, all that armor would sink me to the bottom faster than I could breathe…..

So, just call me “Obi Wan.”

Without too much ceremony, we got to work.


the plunger in action.

Plunging made no difference. Then she told me the story of how there was a previous blockage in which the boyfriend showed her how to hook a piece of pvc pipe to the exhaust port of an Electrolux vacuum cleaner. “let’s try that.”

One problem? her own Electrolux was broken. She knew a friend in Ellsworth. The kind of classy person who would own an Electrolux, queen of all domestic vacuum cleaners. The kind of person who vacuumed every Saturday morning with joy of Electrolux ownership in her heart. The kind of person who would lend her cherished Electrolux to a friend in time of desperate need.

Took an hour to go back and return. She stopped by WalMart and got a “plumber’s auger” as well.

“They don’t sell snakes any more.”

“That’s okay, I know how much you hate snakes.”

The auger was not long enough, or there was no blockage. On to the Electrolux!

This was new ground for me, with newfound respect for the Electrolux brand. By this time we were on the phone with the boyfriend ( a man, really…) and I was giddy with excitement. I’ve been on many an offbeat home repair project but this was the best ever!

“This is the sort of stupid challenge that you and I normally only deal with on a backpacking trip somewhere,” I said. “Remember the time we hiked three miles to Horns Pond in the pitchblack dark? We had a flashlight but never checked the batteries.”

“Spare me the stories. I have to work in the morning.”

I  wrapped a rag around the last few inches of the pipe to make a seal when we blew the air in. We had to hold our fingers on the sink drain and vent so the air didn’t just simply loop through. After five minutes of serious air-compressing, we stopped…. and the toilet bowl water started to bubble back at us like a cauldron of mordant soup.


Electrolux produces a durable machine that is a joy to use. After many years of service you may still be discovering new ways to enjoy your machine.

“It’s like a mud volcano in Yellowstone!” I said but the toilet was still blocked.

It was now time to go to the cellar. We had no muncke wrench (I know for a fact there were two at the house of the lady in Ellsworth whose Electrolux we just borrowed).

“Do you want me to get the Reader’s Digest Home Repair Book?” she asked sweetly. (it’s what I’m always advising her to study).

“Very funny. It’s a tool we need now, we don’t need any stinkin’ books.”

Oh well, I MacGuyvered https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/macgyver a C-clamp and pressed it into service.

I told my sidekick ” You may want to stand back. There’s going to be a bit of water coming out when I do this.”


I knew what was in there. I think my hiking buddy was a bit surprised…..

The cap came off and about forty gallons of sewage poured out in a torrent. Bits of – ahem – refuse? – floating in the pool on the floor.

“Hey do you remember that one?” I asked, sweeping the water with my foot.

Here is where the odor comes in. When you open a sewer pipe, you get sewage. The room filled up. And the Human Bloodhound got a cross-eyed look on her face like it was smelling salts ( which it sorta was).

“I’m so glad you don’t smoke. This amount of methane could blow us to smithereens. Say, do you recall the time we started that small forest fire at Cooper Brook Falls?”


“Oh look, it’s all going down the French drain. aren’t you glad I fixed that?”

Yes, it was gushing freely out the horizontal pipe, and just as freely down the floor drain. “I don’t even know where the other end of that goes.”


The floor drain. It sends the water downhill. It was blocked til a few months ago.

Then I realized that she was in a small state of horrified shock.

“We can’t have this smelly stuff down here!”

“It’s the methane, not the sewage. I’m so-o-o glad you don’t smoke. There’s enough methane here to blow the entire house into Somes Sound.  They would posthumously investigate us like terrorists….”

Then, ” Well, if you want to pick up some of the bigger clods of shit, go right ahead, but I think they’ll be just fine getting washed down the French drain.”

She started to reach down there then thought better of it.

After the deluge, I used the auger to go backwards up the pipes in the direction of the toilet. no blockage. I was proud of how I got it past the severe angle, but this fine point was lost on my one-person audience. Then we brought down the Electrolux and tried to blow it on the end of the horizontal standpipe.

Obviously, the problem was further downstream. That could only mean, the pump designed to propel sewage uphill to the leach field was malfunctioning. By this time we were back on the horn with the boyfriend, who was home in Bangor.


The inside of a alarm used for uphill sewage pumps. It’s a monitor, not a controller.

He and I discussed the amperage of a 220v pump, the state of the alarm (hasn’t worked in at least a year), and the brownout that accompanied a severe rainstorm last week. It was curious that the outlet where we tried to plug in the Electrolux was not working. hmmmm…

I love those kind of manly conversations. “We’re really bonding over this now, it’s a privilege to talk sewage with you at 11 PM on a weeknight,” I told him. He offered to come down though he was an hour away.

Now we realized the possibility that the pump together with the de-humidifier had blown the circuit.


We tested the outlet, plugging in a lamp but the light in it stayed dark. So – the breaker box.

The breaker box!

Ahhh, the breaker box. It has not occurred to me until that exact moment that the toilet was backed up due to a flipped breaker! I normally focus on the plunger, not the breaker. Until this exact moment, I have taken gravity for granted when it comes to sewers.  I ran upstairs and sure enough, #13 was in the halfway position, along with one other.


it’s an old picture bt you get the idea. 100-amp service entrance.

Resetting the breaker produced no particular meritorious effect. Like the Cubs game, elation turned to despair for just a moment.

We ran an extension cord and plugged in the uphill pump power supply. Expecting a hum that did not arrive. Finally, out to the yard. We removed the concrete cover to the pit where the pump was. Lots of turds floating on the surface.  No particular sound of any pump humming along. Should I look for the pump?


“It’s the Devil’s Soup.”

Not a step I wanted to take….. of all the indignities, ending the evening by actually fishing around in a vat of sewage, was too much.

“Don’t make me jump down into there,” I pleaded. “Not at night.”

I told her I was at the end of what i could do, even with backup from an electrical engineer, and said we would need a plumber.

She looked at me with clenched teeth.

“My boyfriend grew up in a family that did their own repairs and never ever called a plumber.”

“By the description you gave me, that’s because they probably didn’t have indoor plumbing.”

It was time to go. I advised her to leave the cellar doors open to disperse the gases.

“You’re my hero.” she said as I left.

“I am here on earth to serve you. Nice to re-unite with my old backpacking team. do you remember the time we…..”

“Enough.” she stopped me cold.

I got back home and the dogs were happy to see me. A short walk in the woods at 1 a.m., and we settled in for the night. Life was simpler when we didn’t have plumbing.

Stay tuned for the follow-up.

Update: The boyfriend arrived the next evening dressed in black from head to toe.  He brought a current-checking gizmo.

We determined that the pump was drawing too much current on startup.

We gazed into the cold cauldron of sewage hell, and fished around with a stick to see if that was where the pump resided.

We decided that the septic needs pumping. We will first need to figure out the location of the septic.  I looked at him.

“Digging  at night, on a guess as to where the septic tank may be? with a man dressed in black? and no moon? It has the feel of robbing a grave.”

And so we agreed it could wait another day.




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Julie and Lucas’ climbing wall “date” in Rockville, Md at Earth Treks

My book

Okay, so I don’t write in this blog very often. While in Nepal I stick to CCNEPal blog, and since the return to USA I have been writing in the blog to accompany my novel, The Sacrament of the Goddess.  If you haven’t been to the FaceBook page for The Sacrament of the Goddess, or the blog – check out this one part.

Date Night for Julie and Lucas

CLICK HERE to skip directly to the video playlist of each climb!

from their web site. from the outside it looks like a warehousee. Inside it was crowded. There is a colorcoded system to choose routes of varying skill level. The main protection is

from their web site. from the outside it looks like a warehousee. Inside it was crowded. There is a colorcoded system to choose routes of varying skill level. The main protection is “top-roping” with a belaying partner. They will train you. IN a real outdoor climb, you would need to do more hiking, contend with weather, and place your own protection as you went along. This clearly simplifies the focus on technique.

They live a mile from a very peculiar sort of gym – the Earth Trek Climbing Center.  For months now they go climbing a few times a week, as a form of exercise.

Julie on a pitch.

Julie on a pitch. “top-roping.” They took training class to learn effective belay. This was a 5.9 and she also attempted some 5.10s as did Lucas.

I had read an editorial about this in the New York Times, back along. In Rockville, people come from all over DC and these folks are in excellent state of conditioning.

The top is about fifty feet up. This pic gives you a sense of height. Lucas may be the top Brazilian climber there! They were certainly the only team coordinating the belayer using Portuguese. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi!

The top is about fifty feet up. This pic gives you a sense of height. Lucas may be the top Brazilian climber there! They were certainly the only team coordinating the belayer using Portuguese. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi!


I brought the video camera and recorded each pitch. For the first one I was quiet, then I realized we needed some commentary.


Here is the link to the playlist of videos. CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIDEOS PLAYLIST

It was a fun, chem-free evening out. The crowd was fun - young urban professionals from all around DC. Julei says she recognized people who had been on those reality TV shows that feature modern gladiators. For me? I was earthbound.

It was a fun, chem-free evening out. The crowd was fun – young urban professionals from all around DC. Julei says she recognized people who had been on those reality TV shows that feature modern gladiators. For me? I was earthbound.

The most famous Rock Climbs in American History?

We had the chance to discuss this later over a light dinner featuring Comida Miniero.

Was it Pointe Du Hoc?

was it Mount Suribachi? (the end result of which was planting the flag on Iwo Jima) close… maybe.

Nope. None of the above.

Not even the first American ascent of Everest (sorry, Jim Whitaker!)

I concluded it was this one, that took place about 1989, in Down East Maine:

The intrepid team later known as

The intrepid team later known as “Snafu,” “Whoopie Pie,” and “Catch-Up” on a summit after a daring climb in Acadia National Park. Note that the protective equipment consists mainly of sweaters hand knit by grandma

The most important climb is the one you make yourself, by taking that courageous first step.

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Is “A Walk in the Woods” a good thing for the Appalachian Trail, or a bad thing?

Here is my two cents for those now inspired to hike the Appalachian Trail now that the movie “A Walk in the Woods” will be released.

I just got back from a weeklong hike on the Hundred Mile Wilderness, the third time in my life I walked that section of the Trail. I’ve hiked 1,100 miles of the Trail in sections in the past. I was/am an Eagle Scout.

If that’s not enough street cred, here’s a picture of me at Katahdin:

In 1982 or 1983. I'm the one actually touching the sign. When you hike Katahdin in February you don't have to wait in line to get the summit photo. Oh and by the way, most of the time it's too cold for this pose.....

In 1982 or 1983. I’m the one actually touching the sign. When you hike Katahdin in February you don’t have to wait in line to get the summit photo. Oh and by the way, most of the time it’s too cold for this pose…..

see the following sign. It’s still in place about a hundred yards down the Trial from the Golden Road ( needs repainting if you ask me)

it might as well say "Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here" but for some reason, the new hikers have not all considered the warning, prior to arrival at the sign. It is quite necessary to prepare.

it might as well say “Abandon Hope, all ye who enter here” but for some reason, the new hikers have not all considered the warning, prior to arrival at the sign. It is quite necessary to prepare.

I saw a few parties that were skirting with trouble, mainly because the people underestimated what they were getting into. Also, there are local outfitters willing to bring food re-supply to the 40-mile mark these days – you no longer need to bring all ten day’s of food, as I did in 2000 when I hiked it with “Gummi Bear.”

who were these folks?

First was a family of five from Colorado that managed to get all the way to Rainbow Stream Lean-to. . They had a dog (not on a leash). They were so tired they took a rest day there. Problem was, they had pre-arranged a food drop at Jo-Merry road crossing, the leader ( the dad) told me they were going to need to hike a 28-mile day to make the rendezvous.

Um, no. This was not an accurate assessment of their capability. Dad was never going to be able to whip his team into shape. Loss of face for the dad. .They learned stuff about the Maine woods – it was just not the stuff they thought they were going to learn

The 28 miles that lay between them and the food drop was more difficult terrain than what they had crossed, by far. I tried to find a way to tactfully suggest that alternatives would need to be considered, but – there are times when a person needs to learn that for himself. Fortunately, they also crossed a logging road  about four miles further on; I was told by another hiker that the family decided to bail at that spot.

They  could have had a great trip to the Maine North Woods if they did some other activity.

Next was a mother/daughter combo. The daughter was flipflopping and already was doing fifteen miles a day. The mom wanted to co-hike but spent all day hiking 3.8 miles to Hurd Brook Lean-to. Obviously a disparity in fitness. It was sweet that mom wanted to support her daughter. After some heartfelt discussion, mom decided she would go back to Abol ( the starting point) and set up some “slackpacking” days, where a driver would ferry their backpacks around to a predetermined spot down the trail.

This created bad karma between Mom and Daughter. Nobody’s life was at stake, but the fantasy of a pleasant hike was dashed to smithereens. The team needs to be in harmony. Doing this activity with other persons is a form of enforced intimacy that’s probably closer than being married ( in some ways, not all!)

Next, a foreign guy with a 50-pound pack. Ouch. He was young and strong though – just headed for pain.

And various others in the mix, obviously carrying way too much stuff. My friend Tom Jamrog reports that somebody told him there’s been a forty per cent increase in hikers starting the Trail going South Bound ( SoBo, in A.T. slang) and that many now get about three days in, then quit.

Now, I have not seen the Walk in the Woods movie, just the trailer, which seems to promote  the idea of male bonding (it seems to have more of a plot than the book. The book was terrific but more of a collection of stories. I always thought Bryson did a great job) But I think they need to make a ten-minute short to show along with it, that emphasizes how to prepare. People actually die doing the A.T. and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

In 2012 I wrote a piece for beginner hikers, and everything in it is still true today.

Answer the question, Joe!

I think the movie ( along with “Wild” which is about the Pacific Crest Trail is a good thing, if it gets people out in to the woods.

Bottom line before you hike:

  1. get in shape. best way to do this is by hiking  in your own neighborhood.
  2. try out your equipment.
  3. take short trips.
  4. do a “shakedown”
  5. have some heartfelt discussions with your potential hiking buddies.
  6. read the books – here is a good one!
  7. be realistic…


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March 5 2014 update for the Junk Drawer

I have five blogs and I only write in this one when I have something to say about backpacking, or the Dixieland band (today is Ash Wednesday and Mardi Gras is over. time to clean up the beads, vomit and hurricanes from Bourbon Street..)

I will say, I have transferred my psychic blogging energy to The Sacrament of the Goddess blog. It accompanies my second book of that title.

Here is one little photo, of the book’s back cover, that may entice you to check it out….

they say the back cover has to contain a tease to entice the casual browser to open it and find the wonders therein....

they say the back cover has to contain a tease to entice the casual browser to open it and find the wonders therein….

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2013 in review for Joe’s Junk Drawer

I know this blog has not been active – I mainly focused my energy on the Nepal blog and especially on the Nursing in Hawaii blog. But for those loyal subscribers, here you go. The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 720 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 12 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Nov 30 finishing a manuscript

I have finished my latest project.


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happy birthday to Amy july 20 2013

Eleven and three-quarter time zones away.

I am here and Amy is there. She lays, wounded on the field of battle, on her mother’s couch. Happy that she didn’t break any bones. Yes, this particular outdoor adventure went from the mundane to the spectacular in a split second. Amy (a.k.a. “Whoopie Pie”) is actually one of the safest and most sensible outdoorspersons I know, which is why I love hiking and camping with her. Get well soon!

Happy Birthday Hambone

I was thinking of a post titled “Top Ten Amy Moments” but then it grew to about a hundred, many of them involving hysterical laughter or perhaps quiet reflection at some vista. (The exception being The Incident at Cooper Brook Falls, which was more about me). So it would take all day to write. No matter, I can just *think* them, one at a time, and they reappear in memory as if I had YouTube in my head (which I do).

Amy, thank you for digging dirt with me that time. If I ever need to dig another hole, or perhaps a shallow grave, I know who to call.

Amy, thank you for Western Union. Now we know how.

Amy, thank you for the bon-bon.

Amy, thank you for braiding Julie’s hair all those times.

Stitches and staples

Yes, she is there and I am here.  Maybe I am being too coy, too oblique. Make it plain!Amy got her ass whupped on a bike ride, and she is licking her wounds. That’s why the couch figures so prominently in today.  Since her mom is a nurse and loves that sort of thing, I picture the day consisting of the smell of baked goods that will nurture her back to health. Presented on a tray with tea (and lemon of course) by a woman with a dusting of flour on her face. For Amy that would be a primal memory.  I picture them reading a book together.

How to avoid future pain and suffering

Maybe I should buy her some body armor for her birthday. Just what every girl wants. When they invent body armor that protects your heart from being broken, I will get her some. And maybe for myself as well……

The amy playlist

I can’t send a birthday gift from here in Kathmandu, not now. But in Amy’s honor I will be the DJ of the hour. Here, in no particular order, are tunes I associate with Amy.

Whenever God Shines His Light on Me by Van the Man.

Glycerine.  By Bush

Anything by Ani DiFranco, or so it seems

Prettiest Tree on the Mountain, Ben Sollee.

Wagon Wheel, by O.C.M.S.

Ray LaMontagne

Chris Ross

The Circle Game

So Long Ago, by Nanci Griffith

You Can call me Al

Today While The Blossoms Still Cling to the Vine. https://youtu.be/mNskh83Cptk Maybe not Amy’s fave, but it’s one I associate with Amy.

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