After a funeral and wedding last week in Michigan, I'm now out in Los Angeles to visit my brother, his girlfriend, and their wonderful collection of friends -- though I'm actually still sitting in Chicago, writing this ahead of time.

Anyways, this won't be by first 4th of July in LA. A short two years ago I was here with Phillip (my brother) and Kelly (his girlfriend), and we decided to enjoy the day by going on a short hike through Angeles National Forest before heading to a friend's barbecue. Long story short, it wasn't a short hike. It ended up being roughly 18 miles long, in fact. Up and down three mountains, out of water for at least half the trip, what sounded and seemed like fun turned into the most grueling workout of my life. We did not make the barbecue, and needless to say, will not be hiking this year. No, siree. Instead, we'll be renting a boat, and venturing the ocean. A flawless, danger-free plan, right?