My Life History

Years Up through College
My name is Hoff and I lived on a farm in Oklahoma until I was 10. After my father died, we sold the farm and moved to Stillwater, OK where my mom got a degree from Oklahoma State. Since then, I have lived in 8 other states (Florida, Georgia, Alaska, California, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts).
I was introduced at an early age to car camping. Camping 1953 or 1954 My father was a wheat farmer who after the harvest on our farm became part of a crew who harvested wheat from Oklahoma up to Colorado as the wheat ripened. Northern Oklahoma is flat and hot in late summer and mom would drive me and my brother Tim up to Colorado to pick him up. Standing on snow on Pikes Peak and seeing trees growing out of solid rock leaves a lasting impression. I have loved mountains ever since.
After Oklahoma, we moved to Tallahassee where mom went to Florida State to get a Masters in Librarianship. I went to high school in Florida and Georgia and got a B.S. in Zoology in 1968 at U. Ga. After college, I got drafted and was sent to Alaska instead of Vietnam (yeah!).

Army Experience
Alaska was beautiful but the army was not my favorite place. After basic training at Ft. Benning, Ga, I spent my army time at Ft. Greely (near Delta Junction, Alaska) which served as the Army Arctic Test Center (around a thousand people at the time).
Not long after I got there I was sent to the Gerstle River compound, an even more isolated post 20 miles east of Ft. Greely. I lived in a small group of Quonset huts for 13 months with 13 other guys, with occasional TDY’s (temporary duty soldiers). Electricity was from a diesel generator and heat was from potbellied stoves (fuel oil). We were about 3 and half miles off of the Alaskan Highway. If you look up Gerstle river in google, you may find its controversial history. An army officer left artillery shells containing Sarin nerve gas on a lake too late in the spring; they fell through the ice and sank into the mud. It took a while for a decision to be made but they finally drained the lake. The lake is called Blueberry Lake now but we called it VX lake over the radio until the Army told us that someone might overhear and perhaps become concerned (VX is a persistent nerve gas). They recovered the shells from the mud after using metal detectors to find them. Civilian contractors drilled holes in the shells and neutralized the gas; later they placed the shells in a pit and blew them up with C4. I still have a small piece of one of the artillery shells. I was stationed at Gerstle River when this happened and was part of the later cleanup. I got a top secret clearance at the time but it is OK to talk about it now because the U.S. wanted to give the land to Alaska and had to make a full disclosure. I got an honorable discharge in November, 1970 as a Specialist 4th class.

Alaska Experience
Winters in Georgia can be cold but Alaska was far beyond my expeience. Daylight is weak and only about 3 hours long in the worst part, while it is 40 below outside. The coldest temperature I saw was 57 below; the coldest wind chill was about 85 below (20 below with a stiff wind). I coped with this by staying inside as much as I could during the winter. The summers were the opposite. It is only dark about 3 hours and you could read in bed without a light.
The saving grace about Alaska is that much of it is unspoiled wilderness. When you hike, you are on game trails made by moose, caribou and Dall sheep. There is no sign that anyone has ever been there. No garbage or trace of man, not even old fire pits. We saw wolf tracks within fifty feet of our front door at Gerstle River. In later trips, I was able to get to walk on Gulkana glacier, Canwell glacier and Gerstle glacier (about 10 miles long). I started backpacking and did a little climbing – Jeff Weih and I climbed Rainbow mountain (6,411 feet) beside the Richardson Highway. I also made a visit to Denali National Park on an army bus and inside the park we saw a mother grizzly with 2 cubs – very impressive but better to be seen from a distance.

Backpacking and Camping
The Gerstle River compound was north of the Alaska Range on the edge of the Alaska Wilderness. Having no experience with backpacking I checked out a book called The Complete Walker by Colin Fletcher. I ordered a backpack, boots and other stuff from REI in Seattle and my first trip was by myself in 1969 with two medium sized dogs for company. In the summer of 1970, I lead a trip with 3 other guys up to about 6000 feet on Gerstle Glacier (tree line is around 3000). We turned back when we got to the point where the snow covered the crevasses. It was above the ice fall in the middle and I considered it too dangerous to go further (one guy did fall in up to his waist). We also saw marmots, caribou, and Dall Sheep on that trip. Since that time I have backpacked in California, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado (Rawah Wilderness – a week by myself), and Montana (Glacier National Park – with a lady friend).

Before Graduate School
After I got out of the Army I moved to San Diego and worked for a couple of years. While working in San Diego, I enjoyed the mild climate and did some backpacking (desert near 29 palms, Joshua Tree National Park, Sierras). My younger brother (Larry) and I climbed Mt. Whitney (highest mountain in the lower 48 at 14,505 feet) when he came to visit. I also did rock climbing at Tahquitz rock and Suicide rock. Some climbs lasted for 6 hours but the hardest technical climb I lead was a 5.9. Not so hard by modern standards but the crux move was smearing your shoe on a bump of rock about the size of a pencil eraser. I also learned to scuba dive.

Graduate School
I went to graduate school at North Carolina State University in 1972, making the drive with everything I owned from San Diego to Raleigh, North Carolina (stopping at Sequoia National Park and Yosemite on the way). I got married the next year (1973) to my first wife, Sara, and later got my Masters (1975) and Ph.D. (1982). I majored in Zoology with a minor in marine science – the subject matter was marine ecology. I underestimated how long it would take to pick all the tiny animals out of the plant detritus and it took me years to finish. I ended up counting and identifying 250,000 invertebrate animals of 200 species. The statistical design was such that I couldn’t find out what I had until I finished. By the time I finished, my marriage had disintegrated (she got tired of waiting, which I can understand) and I almost wasn’t able to get the Ph.D. After it was all over, I did not consider the Ph.D. worthy of publication. I did not want to do a post doc and started looking for jobs.

After graduate school
Since Reagan was in office, ecology jobs were exceedingly scarce and I ended up shifting careers into Information Technology. There seemed to always be jobs there. I worked as a SAS programmer and learned Cobol, Fortran and C. I worked as a consultant and then took a permanent job at Freddie Mac and ended up working for them for 9 years. I started in the tax department and ended up supporting the derivatives department coding payments for mortgage backed derivatives for Morgan Stanley and other Wall Street firms. I also took about a year of classes in Aikido. During this time I got involved with Unitarian churches and made many friends. Later a friend at one of those churches told me about a lady by the name of Susan who went to another church and liked to bicycle. Twenty years ago, I met her at Star Bucks; we dated, and hit it off. Later her job finished up in D.C. and she moved to Boston. I quit my job and followed her; then we bought a house and got married. Doesn’t everyone do it that way?

Retirement
In 2010, in December, I stepped out of my front door, noting that the steps looked wet. I had no idea that the rain was on top of ice. I slipped and came down so hard, I broke my femur and ended up with part of my femur being titanium and tantalum and a hip socket of titanium, ceramic, and HDPE (high density polyethylene).
I was thinking of doing some long distance backpacking after I retired but I was told that the wear and tear on the hip socket made it a bad idea. In fact, hiking over 6 miles and over 1500 feet vertically in a day makes my hip pretty sore. Less than that and I don’t notice it, however.

I retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2012 and a year later bought an Aliner. This is my substitute for those long backpacking trips I can’t do now. The Aliner travels can be found on the rest of this web site.

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