Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Long Walk

I hereby announce my intention to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2008.

I've got the time, I've got the money, and it's something I have always wanted to do.

Man, I've got so much to do. All of the camping equipment I own isn't wildly inappropriate for this type of endeavor. I have a 4 person tent, and an army surplus sleeping bag. Those two things together weigh more than what I want my entire load to weigh, not counting food and water.

I have to figure out logistics. What is going to be available at grocery stores on the way. How much should I focus on freeze-dried rather than fresh food? How many pairs of shoes will I need for 2170 miles of trail? What will I need to have people send to me on the way, versus what should be in the bounce box, and how much?

I have 11 months to try out lightweight shelters sleep systems bags, water purifiers, etc.

Can I get a book out of this? How light is a good camera? Can I learn how to take decent pics before I go, while i am doing all this other stuff.

If I'm going to be gone for 10 months, should I sell or rent my house, or should I just leave it vacant?

Am I worrying about this too much, or should I just guess and deal with the issues on the way?

ARGH! How can I sleep when I spend all night pacing around thinking about this stuff?

Is that weird?

I spent 5 minutes trying to rescue a jumping spider from my bathtub today. The poor guy couldn't climb the porcelain. I spent a few minutes trying to catch it, but he was too fast, so I ended up using a length of toilet paper to give it something to climb up.

After going through all this, I realized I had spent all this time helping a spider that most people would have just killed.


Yeah, so Friday was nice. Really nice. 76 degrees, clear blue skies, and a gentle breeze nice. Nothing much was going on with work, and I had just mounted a scope on the ol' Anschutz 1411.

So I called the boss, and said, "I'm taking the afternoon off. It's really nice out." He said he was sitting on his deck drinking beer, and as far as he was concerned, I should be doing the same.

Instead, I went shooting.

The bragging target of the day (50 yards prone with a sling.)

Through the Raven Gate

I spent last week at Gunsite in Paulden, AZ, for the 250 Pistol Class.

Gunsite is the school founded by shooting great Jeff Cooper. For those of you who don't know, the Colonel died 9/25.

I flew in to Phoenix on Sunday. In the past when I've flown with guns it has been for work, so I had a copy of an FFL, which tends to sooth bureaucrats everywhere. This time I was just flying as a regular Joe, so I was a little nervous about the check in procedure. I had no hassles at all. In fact, on the flight back, I thought the TSA crew in Phoenix was a little lax, because they didn't physically check to insure the pistol was unloaded. I guess they can see it in the x-ray machine, but still...

The drive to Paulden is gorgeous. Rte 69 and 89A are mainly valleys of rolling pastures hemmed in by rocky desert mountains. I really wish I had taken photos, but I don't instinctively grab a camera when I see something cool. I'm getting better, but I'm not there yet.

I stayed at the Antelope Hills Inn in Prescott. It was cheap and clean, with a pizza joint, convenience store, and Laundromat just across the parking lot. I would definitely stay there again, except... ( I'll talk about this later.) It was about 25 miles from Gunsite, but it's an easy drive. Just don't speed through Chino Valley.

The first day of class started with a discussion about the facilities especially THE FACILITIES at Gunsite. THE FACILITIES include this nifty color chart over the toilets to let you know how much you should drink to avoid dehydration. I really need to find a copy.

We also received a lecture safety, the history of modern pistol shooting, and Col. Cooper's role in its development. After that we hit the range and began to work on the 5 point draw and shooting at the whopping distance of 3 yards.

Gunsite teaches the Weaver Stance. I have never before shot in the Weaver Stance. I have always been an Isocoles Stance shooter. I was there to learn so I bought into the Weaver Stance, for the duration of the class anyways. The adoption led to some interesting kinks in my shooting. Among other things, my grip went all screwy, because the downward bent elbow changed the position of my wrist. It was quite bit of work to get adjusted.

The other interesting kink was the extra step it added to my draw. I already used the 5 point draw advocated by Gunsite. The new step was after pushing the gun out to the target, I would notice that my left elbow was pointing out, so I would rotate it down before shooting. Funky. Funky Looking.

The real highlight of the day was Jeff Copper's funeral. Jeff is now interred in a mausoleum on the grounds of Gunsite. As a Marine, he had a USMC honor guard, and a 21 gun salute. A few seconds after the final volley of the salute, every student in the school answered the salute by firing a full magazine into the backstop of whatever range they were on. I am glad I was able to be a part of that.

At the end of the day we received a homework assignment: Practice presentations.

On Tuesday, we continued to work on the presentation, and added malfunction drills to the mix. After the regular class I had an extra 2 hours of classroom time, because I am applying for the Arizona CCW license.

On Wednesday morning we received a lecture on mental conditioning. This is the classic Condition White/yellow/orange/red lecture, which everyone has seen a million times. It's a good lecture, but I was a little bored. The part that was interesting was the discussion on how you will feel after an engagement.

Wednesday afternoon we learned how to shoot from the kneeling and prone positions. We also learned how to turn around 180 degrees to engage targets behind us.

Thursday and Friday morning were composed of a series of drills to burn in our new, finely hone skills, and instruction/practice in room clearing. I didn't' think the killhouses would stress me out much because of my competition background, but they really got my heart pounding. The outdoor simulators were a ton of fun. I could do those all day and most of the night.

Thursday night consisted of night shooting and an introduction to the use of flashlights. The day session ended at 4 and the night session started at 6. Considering that Gunsite is in the middle of nowhere, it meant that we were most likely going to be stuck eating at McDonalds.

It turns out that a local B&B really likes hosting Gunsite students, and their main means of advertising is to invite the students to dinner on the day of the night shoot. It fast, and delicious. Apparently it is also an advertising method that works extremely well, because I have every intention of staying there the next time I attend Gunsite. Little Thumb Butte B&B

Friday afternoon was the shootoff. There were two 250 sections, and earlier in the week, the rangemaster from the other class challenged the winner in our section to shoot against the shootoff winner in his section.

The course of fire in our section was a symmetrical array of steel pepper poppers. Each shooter had two pepper poppers and one half of a spit popper to shoot. A split popper is a pepper popper split down the middle and hinged so one half of the popper falls over the other. We stood with a foot in a tire, and had to shoot the two plates, reload and then engage the correct side of the split popper.

My class was a 25 shooter single elimination tree. I didn't think I would do well, because there were several shooters that did very well in the class. Many of them were SWAT team members and police firearms instructors. One of them was even a retired instructor from FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center). I thought my biggest challenge would be Shane, because he apparently was a regular competitor in bowling pin matches.

The real challenge was the FLETC guy. His name is Charlie. As we won matches against the various Yankees and westerners in the class, we would suggest the various southern foods that must be responsible for our performance. Grits! BBQ! Cornbread! Biscuits and Gravy! I had to shoot against him the last match of our sections tree. He was having trouble with his magazines dropping free. It's my understanding that we were tied in every match until the reload, where his magazines weren't falling cleanly, so I was hitting the target as he started to aim.

After his defeat Charlie said he'd buy me dinner if I beat the guy from the other class.

The whole class drove over to the other range. I walked into the pit with the steel targets and became immediately concerned. The layout was the same, and the split popper was still there, but the other targets were 6" lollipops instead of poppers! This isn't fair! The other guy has been shooting at this array for the last hour and a half! Now I have to adapt to new, much smaller targets, and still shoot faster than the guy! I was pretty concerned, because I was having some difficulty with shooting too fast and missing on the original array of pepper poppers. Now I had to shoot at targets that were even smaller.

The Rangemasters agreed that the match was to be 3/5.

On the first bout, I forgot to reload, but I apparently clanged the targets down so fast that challenger dude was intimidated. I heard him say "Shit, he's fast!" to his instructor.

On the second bout, I remembered to reload, but I hit the wrong side of the popper. I realized what I had done before the gun had gone off, and started cussing before the plate had finished falling over. As I moved to the other tire, I looked back and saw my whole class cheering for me. I can honestly say I've never had people vocally cheering and jumping up and down for me. Ever. People that know me are going to think I'm being sarcastic when I say this, but it makes me a little misty-eyed thinking about it.

At this point I was down 2 in a 3/5 match. In other words, the other guy either had to get lucky once, or I had to screw up once to lose. To win, I had to be flawless for the next 3 rounds.

If you have ever read Brian Enos' books, you will remember the chapter where he talks about your consciousness stepping back, and being aware of everything going on while your reptile brain does what it has to do. For one of the first times in my life I experienced that. I could see the other guys plates falling while the red dot on my front sight filled nearly my entire field of vision. On the third bout, I hammered down the popper with 3 rounds/3 hits. I had finished before the other guy had hit his second target. I was later told that the last three rounds were so fast that a few folks thought my pistol had gone full auto.

At this point, Ed Stock, the Rangemaster from my section grabbed my shoulder and shook me. He yelled something in my ear. I seem to recall it being "BREATHE!!"

The next two rounds were pretty much the same. On the last round, I looked up after I finished, and realized the other guy was still missing the first target after I had finished. It had been a blowout.

The prize for winning the shootout was an M6X gunlight. I was also given a silver raven lapel pin. I'm not sure if I got that just for winning the shoot off, or for winning both sections, or what. Charlie told me that Gunsite didn't exactly hand them out like candy, but I have yet to confirm that. Ed said when I came the 350 class, that pin had better be on my hat or else, which makes me think Charlie is right. Does anybody know the story about the silver ravens?

I've won man-on-man competitions before, but having people cheering for me and shaking my hand and hugging me made it completely different. Like I said, it makes me a little misty eyed. How odd.

I highly recommend Gunsite for training, with one important proviso. If you have your own way of doing things, and are stubborn about it, don't bother. There was at least one guy in my class that seemed completely unable to accept what the instructors were teaching him. His shooting was ok, but his gun manipulation was terrible, and never got better. The instructors would show him something, and he would resist it. This school is expensive folks. I paid $1400 plus room, board and travel to get there. At least buy into the program long enough to see if it works. Otherwise you can send me your tuition check, which I will use for my ammo fund. Either way, you'll learn the same amount.

Wow. It's just hitting me that I participated in Cooper's funeral. F'n A.

Arousal Level and Peak Shooting Performance

Lately I've been thinking about the role emotional arousal level plays in shooting performance.

Anyone that has ever competed in a shooting game remembers the quivery knees they experienced in their first match. I did my best to quash that sensation when I was shooting.

The first discipline I was really serious about was smallbore rifle in High School. I was too busy working on the physical side of the game to even think about the mental side of the game. I was a pretty small kid, and a late bloomer, so just holding the gun up was enough of a challenge.

After college, I started shooting bullseye pistol. I was blessed to live less than a mile from the club I competed at, and to have the ability to shoot a National Match Course 3 to 4 times a week, and 900 or 1800 at least monthly. Springfield, MA was truly bullseye heaven. Shooting as much as I was (5 to 6 cases of rimfire a year for 3 years!) the stress of shooting a match became non-existent. In fact, when I was competing, I trusted my skill level to the point where I just went on autopilot. It seemed to work because my scores were rapidly approaching master level.

When I moved to South Carolina a few things happened. First, my bullseye guns were stolen. Second, there was only one match a month that I could get to regularly. This meant that I shifted my attention to IDPA and IPSC. I had already shot enough IDPA in Springfield, that I didn't have any sort of rush or wobbly knees at the beginning of the match, but something else happened: I plateaued. Hard. The more hours I put in on the range, training the more consistently average my shooting became. I didn't have any stages where I crashed and burned, but I also stopped shooting stages where my performance was brilliant. I was just a high C, low B shooter, and I wasn't progressing at all. It was frustrating, and I pretty much just burned out.

This autumn, I went to Gunsite to take the 250 class. I can't say I am a significantly better shooter than I was before I went. My reloads may be a bit faster, and I eliminated some issues in my shooting that were tactically wrong (e.g. I am a notorious speed re-holsterer).

There is one thing I noticed. In the shoot off at the end of the class, I was excited. I was excited to the point where I was experiencing tunnel vision, auditory exclusion and had an instructor actually remind me to breathe. I was also shooting incredibly well. I was hammering split poppers three or four times before they hit the ground.

Now I am concerned that by quashing my emotional response to shooting matches, and making it just a mechanical function, I severely limited my peak performance levels.