In early spring of 2007 I decided to quit my job, sell my house along with nearly everything else that I owned, and to live out of my car while traveling the country. These are my stories (and pictures) of life on the road.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Waiting...

Well, there was some whining and crying from my dad about being beat out of his prize the other day but I think we eventually came to a mutual understanding. This is my blog and my rules, so he can like it or lump it. I will say that his prize (or what would have been his prize) tasted fantastic! Thanks for treating, dad.

It was a long few days spent driving through the Nevada and Utah deserts. The roads were long, hot, and didn't provide a whole lot of scenery to look at while driving. I try to stay off the interstates when I drive and there were a couple spots on the drive with about 200 miles in between towns. Just me, the highway, the wind, the sun the blowing dust, and sage. I'm sure there are some beautiful parts to the desert and if I wasn't in such a hurry driving to Colorado I would have spent some time trying to find them. But as it was I can't say I was all that impressed with what I saw from the highway.

The first town I hit in Nevada was Winnemucca and for whatever reason I guess I just expected most of the towns in Nevada to be small, dusty, poor, mining towns. As I pulled into town at 10:00pm on a Friday night I was proved wrong there. Turns out gambling is just as big in the rest of Nevada as it is in Reno and Vegas. Apparently you couldn't own a business in town unless you had lots of flashing lights on your sign. It didn't matter if it was a casino, bar, restaurant or hotel.

I was thankful to reach central Utah where the landscape started to change a little with a lot of color in the rocks and lots of bluffs and canyons. I even got to see some corn fields in a couple of the towns I drove through. I didn't have time to stop to check out any of the scenery though so I just had to admire it from the road. It was a much more interesting drive then the previous couple days.

I finally reached central Colorado and felt like I could relax again. I found a place to sleep a couple hours west of Denver and when I woke up in the morning bought a nice trail map and headed out to do some hiking. By the time I got to the trailhead I was pretty sleepy so I took an hour or so long nap in my car; waking up refreshed and ready to tackle the mountains. The nap worked out perfect since it was getting late in the afternoon and nearly everyone else had already left.

The hike was wonderful, following a creek back up the mountains as it would through it's own little canyon it had created over thousands of years. After a few miles it opened up into a nice meadow with a couple real nice mountain lakes. By the time I got there the sun had just set behind the mountains; which rose up all around the lake. It was dead calm with no wind and their were small trout rising in the lake to feed on the insects. I sat on a small rock point for a while to admire the view before heading back to the car in the fading light.

It felt great to be back on the trail again and now all I had to do was wait another day for Sarah to arrive.

Monday, August 27, 2007

It's good to be on top

I pulled into Great Basin National Park and after looking at the map I knew that I had to climb Wheeler Peak. It topped out at 13,063', which was about 4000 feet higher then I'd ever hiked. There was a trail to the top and after talking to a ranger found that although it was a strenuous hike there was no actual “mountain climbing” involved. I set out early the next morning for the summit.

The trailhead started at 10,000 feet and was only 4 miles long, which would make for a semi-steep hike. Unfortunately the first mile was flat as a pancake and the second wasn't much steeper; meaning that most of the elevation gain would take place in the last two miles up the mountain. Great, the toughest hike will be in the thinnest air.

As promised the hike started easy and gradually got steeper. Once I got out of the trees I was walking on a ridge directly exposed to the wind. It wouldn't have been very cold at all if it hadn't been for the wind. Thankfully the trail turned around to the calm side of the mountain about 1/2 mile from the top so it was calm after that.

At what I'd guess was around the 2.5 mile mark I passed a family who had stopped for a snack. After them I couldn't see anyone else ahead of me. Looking back I could see one man in a green jacket following me. I was pretty sure I'd be the first to reach the peak that morning.

As I climbed higher the oxygen got thinner and I got slower. The trail turned into loose rocks and gradually got steeper and steeper. I was taking my time, stopping to catch my breath now and again and stopping to take some pictures as well. All the while the man in the green jacket kept getting closer. I can be a pretty competitive person but I wasn't feeling all that competitive this morning. I figured I wasn't going to kill myself trying to race him up the mountain. After all, I had a knee to think about and after growing up in Iowa and spending the last couple months in the Portland and Seattle areas I wasn't real used to high altitudes. I didn't exactly pick up my pace but I did try to walk a little more efficiently and I quit taking so many breaks. After all, I couldn't just give it to him!

The man in the green jacket was relentless, never resting. Just slowly and steadily gaining on me. I thought of just stopping to let him catch up and pass me so I wouldn't have to think about it anymore, but I couldn't do it. My lungs and legs both burned and screamed at me to rest but I kept on my slow and steady pace. The trail got steeper and the rocks got looser; I tried to pick a pace I thought I could maintain to the top without stopping. If he caught me at this pace then there was nothing I could do about it; I just couldn't go much faster. Another check over my shoulder found the green jacket a little closer. I knew he was back there thinking how he wanted to pass me and be the first to the top.

It looked like the trail had a ways to go as it wound its way up the mountain and I didn't know how much more I had in me. I was just about ready to give up and let him by when I noticed the trail made an unexpected turn straight up the mountain. This meant it was going to be shorter then I'd thought; but steeper as well. My competitiveness kicked in and I knew the first summit of the day was mine to loose right then. So I made one final hard push for the top and was easily able to hold off the man in the green jacket for victory.

I got to the top, hunkered down behind a rock pile to escape the wind, and reveled in the glory of knowing I was the first to reach the summit that hazy morning. I celebrated with an apple and some trail mix as I relaxed and enjoyed the view. The man in the green jacket sulked at another rock pile, obviously disappointed in himself. He tucked his tail between his legs and started back down the mountain as I continued to bask in my own glory.

It's good to be on top.

I shot a couple videos while up on top too; one that know my mom will appreciate. As usual the camera doesn't do the view (or the drop) justice. That was a long, steep, drop.



And the Answers are....

In case you missed the first part of the quiz read it first here

Thank you all so much for playing along in our little game about Battle Mountain, Nevada. Here are the correct answers-

A: It's named after a battle between settlers and indians that never actually happened.

It seems there was no Captain Pierson, no settlers and no attacking indians...ooops

C: The letters “BM” written in huge letters on a nearby hill.

This is my favorite and was my tip off of just where I was as I drove into town. It really made my day.

C: They decided to hold an annual Arm Pit festival

Apparently it's held in a pit mine, sponsored by old spice deodorant, and includes “most talented arm pit” contest. I mean really, you can't make this stuff up!

Unfortunately I apparently don't have the brightest blog readers in the world since no one that posted in the comments section was able to come up with all the correct answers. Such a shame since I had such a lovely prize in mind if someone happened to guess all three correctly. I did post a link to this quiz on a couple websites that I belong to and two people who responded to those posts did get all three answers correct though. Unfortunately one was as a result of blatant cheating, but hey, at least he admitted it.

The only person to come up with all three correct answers legitimately was my dad in his response to my post on iATN. Way to go Dad, I knew you had it in you!

Unfortunately for him though he seems to have a reading comprehension problem. You see, in my original blog post I specifically said that people were welcome to play along by posting a response in the comments section on my blog; NOT simply by responding to my post on iATN.

I think we all remember the time my dad ran an ad/contest in the local paper for everyone to correct his grammar and punctuation in said ad. He said to clip out the ad and make your corrections in red. One lady, and english teacher, came up with way more mistakes then anyone else but my dad saw fit to disqualify her since she didn't make her corrections in red. He reasoned that since everyone else had done it in red and she was an english teacher it was no ones fault but her own.

So, since my dad should be well aware to play by the rules or suffer the consequences I hereby disqualify him from the contest! That means I don't have to give out any prizes and instead will treat myself to lunch today. Yippee!

Thanks for playing everyone! Although you may not be the brightest bunch it's obvious that you're not a bunch of cheaters (except for Ole); and that's way more important in my book!

Now to be fair I must say that from the little that I saw of Battle Mountain it didn't look like too bad of a town and from outward appearances didn't deserve it's title of “Arm Pit of America” (though BM on the hill is really funny). I've driven through much worse looking places then this on my travels. And hey, you can't say the town doesn't have a sense of humor!

For anyone who wants to listen to the original segment on Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me you can download it from their website.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Dubious Honor

Welcome to Battle Mountain, Nevada. The arm pit of America!

Yesterday I realized that it was getting pretty late in the week and I needed to start covering some ground if I wanted to get to Colorado on time; so I've just been buzzing right on down the road. As I drive through Nevada I certainly don't feel like I'm missing much. Eastern Colorado looks like a hotbed of activity compared to South Central Oregon and Nevada! Just miles and miles of desert. I was just mindlessly driving along as I entered Battle Mountain and suddenly I realized where I was...I was in the arm pit of America!!

You see, one of my favorite shows on NPR is Wait, Wait, Don't Tell me (you know, NPR's weekly news quiz) and every week they bring on some special guest, for a section called, “Not my Job”. It's usually a well known celebrity, some big shot in the media or something like that and they ask them three questions about a topic they don't know anything about. The questions are multiple choice and all of the answers seem preposterous, but one of them is true.

Anyway, I remember one episode earlier this year and the questions were about Battle Mountain. You see, 5 years ago the Washington Post had named the 5 worst places in the US and Battle Mountain Nevada was the winner! And I now I found myself in this very town; how exciting!

It actually was really exciting; it had been a boring day driving and I was screaming and hollering with delight in the car (it doesn't take much to entertain me).

Anyway, I thought maybe all of you would like to play the game so I found the old episode on-line and here are the questions about Battle Mountain. One answer is correct for each question. Either play by yourself or post your answers in the comments section for a little friendly competition. Can you do better then special guests Jill St. John and Robert Wagner did on the show?

And NO cheating! If you've already heard the show then you're disqualified.

So here we go-

#1: Battle Mountain as a deep dark secret about it's founding, what is it?

A: It's named after a battle between settlers and indians that never actually happened.
B: The mountain of the towns name is actually a huge pile of mining waste
C: It was created out of whole cloth in 1956 entirely as a tax shelter for an oil company

#2: You know you've arrived in Battle Mountain when you see what famous landmark?

A: The worlds largest EPA Super Fund toxic waste dump
B: The nations second tallest dedicated cell tower
C: The letters “BM” written in huge letters on a nearby hill

#3: The town was surprised to be drug out of obscurity and into the lime light by being named Arm Pit of America by the Washington Post. How did they react?

A: They sued the Post fLinkor defamation and after 3 years of litigation won their suit and damages of $10
B: They convinced the Gillette company to film a lady's razor commercial there
C: They decided to hold an annual Arm Pit festival

Best of luck. And remember, you're on your honor!

I'll post the answers tomorrow of the following day depending on when/if I find internet access.

Get the answers

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Bye Bye PNW

Wow, I can't believe how the time has flown on this trip! It's been just over 3 months now since I've left Iowa and I've driven 10,000 miles. The little Saturn has performed like a champ though and hasn't given me a bit of trouble. After spending the entire summer in the PNW it's finally time to say goodbye and begin my trek back east where I'll meet up with Sarah for a few days in Denver (where she's attending a wedding) before driving back to Iowa together.

I spent all last week in Portland working and neglecting my blog; but thankfully the neglect was a result of having fun. I'd already worked at this shop for a few days in the end of June so it was nice going into it knowing what to expect and things went smoothly. Terica, a service writer at the shop, decided she'd show me Portland and I got the whirl wind tour through out the week and it was a blast! Everything from an airplane ride over the Columbia Gorge to fondue to drag shows to Voo Doo Donuts and to flaming drinks and deserts. Although I've stayed with some great people during my trip and had a lot of fun with them it was great to be able to hang out with someone my own age. It's really the first time since I've left Iowa that I've had a real friend to hang out with and to spend time with; it was really nice. I got to see a lot of things in Portland that I never would have gotten to see on my own.

I even got invited to her roommates wedding in Cannon Beach, which was actually held right on the beach. After helping set up the chairs I hung around and made sure no one messed with the stuff while everyone else got all fancied up. As I sat there reading my book the violinist came down and started warming up so I had my own private violin player right there on the beach, which was very cool. The wedding was nice but the reception afterwards was even more fun since it included free food, booze, and dancing. Since it was a Sunday afternoon and everyone needed to drive back to Portland the reception was over about mid-afternoon. After it was over Terica and I drove up to Astoria to explore the area a little bit more. Despite the fact that I dropped on of my new cameras into the water it was a pretty fun little trip. We got to see a bunch of Sea Lions and climb Astoria tower for an amazing view of the area. It was pretty late by the time we got back to Cannon Beach to pick up my car but thankfully I didn't have to be to work in the morning so when I got tired on the way back to Portland I just pulled over the car and went to sleep. I ended up staying in Portland through Monday so I could talk to Jim and Liz a bit before I left (the people I was staying with) and I headed out of town Tuesday morning.

I started heading towards central Oregon and it seemed that as I crested a hill I'd found that I'd suddenly left the woods and entered the high desert. I stopped next to a small river last night and woke up just as the sun was lighting the top rim of the small canyon I was in. I looked at it for a minute and then went back to sleep for another hour before continuing on my way. As I passed Prineville reservoir I couldn't resist slipping the kayak in the water and going for a nice paddle. The sun was shining, it was warm, and the lake was calm as could be, absolutely perfect weather for a paddle. The lake was nearly deserted and I found a nice little beach to do some swimming, exploring, and napping before heading back to the car. Tonight finds me just east of Bend, Oregon in the badlands.

Tomorrow I'll likely be out of Oregon, not to return until at least next summer. I just wanted to thank everyone who made my little PNW tour possible and very enjoyable. The people and climate are tough to beat. Let me let everyone one else in on a little secret here. You know how the northwest is really rainy and dreary?

Well it's not!!

At least not in the summer it isn't. Rain is an oddity during the summer months, the sun shines a lot, it's not humid, and they think 85 degrees is pretty hot! Most days the temperatures stayed in the 70's; though there was one week the temps did get well into the 90's but that seems to be the exception. Everyone that I met seemed to be pretty proud of their weather and they told me how nice it was during the summer. This was always followed up by, “don't tell anyone though”. Apparently that's a little secret they don't want to get out, so don't tell anyone I told you.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Thank Goodness for Health Insurance!

Thank goodness for heath insurance, that's all I can say. As soon as I turned 19 I was no longer covered under my fathers health insurance coverage so we had to switch it over to my name. So for the last 10 years I've been paying my health insurance dues like a good boy knowing that some day it could save my bacon. I generally only showed up to the doctor once every 2 or 3 years for something pretty minor, I don't think I ever had a bill over a couple hundred bucks. At times I felt foolish for spending all that money on health insurance but I kept reminding myself I didn't have it for the little minor stuff; it's for the larger, unexpected stuff.

So early into my big trip this summer (www.alangage.blogspot.com) when I dislocated my knee in the mountains I was relieved to know that I'd have health insurance to help me out. Seeing as I was no where near home and had no income that was really a load off my mind. I stopped by the local hospital for a check over and some x-rays and the doc said he couldn't see anything in the X-rays but recommended I see a specialist and get an MRI done to check for ligament damage. In the meantime I'd be OK on the knee if I just took it easy.

I got a recommendation from Albin on a great bone and joint doctor in Bellevue, WA so a couple weeks later when I found myself up that way I made an appointment and stopped in. The doctor looked at the X-rays from the hospital I'd already had done, poked around, gave me some options, and we decided to have an MRI done to see if any damage had occured or if anything needed to be fixed. An MRI is a pretty spendy procedure but thankfully I had health insurance to take care of that.

I got the results back from the MRI a little while later and it turns out I had a partially torn medial meniscus and a partially torn ACL; both of which would require surgery to repair. Without surgery my knee wouldn't be as strong as it should be and it would be easier for it to pop out of place again the future, likely doing more damage. Since I'm an active guy and I don't like the thought of having that happen in the mountains EVER again surgery sounds like the way to go. Thankfully the medial meniscus is pretty straight forward with a quick recovery time. The ACL on the other hand is a lot more involved and will require a loooong recovery time and will probably include rehab too. Phew, health insurance to the rescue!

I was trying to decide just when and where I'd get the surgery done when a few days later I find out that my health insurance company, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, denied the claims they'd gotten from the hospital in Baker City where I'd first gotten my knee checked out. Hmm, I didn't like that at all. Did that mean they were going to deny the claims from the specialist and for the MRI as well?

Yup, it sure did.

After getting ahold of the insurance company to find out what's going on it appears they're denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition. You see, when I was 16 or 17 I hurt this same knee. At the time I was covered under my dads Blue Cross/Blue Shield and they covered the bills from the local hospital which included a few x-rays and advice to take it easy and the knee would heal on its own. When I turned 19 however and the plan was put into my name (same insurance company) I was suddenly a “new customer” and that knee problem I'd had a couple years ago was now a “pre-existing condition”. I remember sitting in the office and having them tell me that BC/BS wouldn't cover any injuries to that knee for a period of two years. I thought that was pretty crappy but it didn't seem there was a whole lot I could do so I just went with it and hoped I wouldn't re-injur my knee in the next couple years; which I thankfully didn't.

Now what I didn't hear them tell me, or what I don't remember hearing them tell me at that time was that after those two years were up I'd have to have submit some paper work and be re-evaluated to see if they'd decide to cover my knee. I honestly don't know if they just didn't tell me, didn't make it clear, or if I just totally forgot but for the last 8 years I've been under the assumption that once those first 2 years were up my knee was covered...ooops, guess not.

I can submit that paper work and have it re-evaluated now, but even if it's accepted it's not retroactive so there's no way they're going to pay for the current bills on my knee. And what do you think the chances are of them re-evaluating the situation and saying, “sure, we'd be happy to cover your knee that we already know is going to require surgery to repair”. I don't think I'll hold my breath on that one.

So here I am looking at some pretty steep doctors bills, which I can pay out of pocket thankfully, but that I'm not really happy about having to pay and that will put a pretty good dent in my bank account. And that still doesn't do anything to address my knee, which is still going to require surgery to be back to 100% reliable, I highly doubt I'll be able to pay for that out of pocket.

Gee, what a fantastic system this is. They really seem to be looking out for what's best for their customers. I'm more then willing to admit my share of the blame for not paying more attention to my health insurance policy and for not realizing that little catch. But honestly, how many people out there are really going to take the time to figure all that stuff out on their own? How many people are assumingLink they're covered and will later get a very unpleasant surprise.

No matter what you think of Michael Moore I highly recommend that everyone watch his newest movie, “Sicko”. It's all about health insurance industry and it's a real eye opener. Some of the stuff in there is just plain astounding. I felt he did a pretty good job of staying neutral in the politics on this one, though there are of course some jabs at the president and other conservatives. Democrats didn't get off with a free ride on this one though either. In fact I think we all got slammed pretty hard in this movie, I took it as more of a wake up call to everyone living in the US to wake up and look what's really going on. The only reason stuff like this continues to happen is because we let it happen; just assuming everyone out there really has our best interests in mind and wants what's best for us.

The first half of the movie I thought was particularly powerful, the second half seemed a little more like entertainment then enlightenment but still had some really good stuff in it. I'm sure not going to take everything he says in the movie as gospel and there's always another side to every story; but this side needs to be heard.

Hopefully someday I'll be able to say "Thank goodness for health insurance" and actually mean it! In the mean time, anyone in Canada looking for a good mechanic?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Just Browsing

There are some pretty interesting things going on in the world of web browsers and I figured I'd bring it up since it's something a lot of people don't think about. I'm definitely no expert on browsers but I've got some I like and I try to keep semi up-to-date on what's going on.

I use Google Analytics to watch the traffic that my blogs receive and it really shows you just how much big brother is watching. It will tell me all sorts of information about the visitors to my sites; such as what pages were viewed the most, time spent on the site, whether the visit was direct (as in you typed the URL yourself) or if they were directed from another site, etc, etc...

Don't worry though, it's not like it tells me anything real specific like that John Smith from Friarville is sitting around in his underwear and that the previous site he was on before coming to mine was www.nakednation.com.

Another thing it tells me is what web browsers people are using who view my site; and I happen to know that 65.68% are using Internet Explorer. Of course that's to be expected since it's the de-facto browser supplied with about every PC on the planet; but there's many more out there that are faster, more secure, more powerful, and are still free!

Firefox is by far the closest competition to Internet Explorer, in fact 24.76% of you that visit my sites use it. In the last few years it's been much more innovative then Explorer and many of the features Explorer 7.0 touted were things Firefox had already had for years. Not to mention Firefox (and pretty much all other browsers out there) is more secure then Internet Explorer and does a better job getting rid of pop-ups and the like.

I've used Firefox for the last 4 years or so and have gotten along great with it. It's available for both Mac and PC and has done pretty much everything I need it to do. I've recently switched though and started using Safari. Safari has always been a Mac only browser (just like Explorer is PC only) but that's changed now as their newest beta release is supposed to work with Windows XP and Vista; I can't vouch for how well though since I'm using a Mac.

Anyway, my reason for switching to Safari is because they're one of only a handful of browsers to recognize ICC profiles. An ICC profile is the color information stored with most images that tell whatever program that's opening the image exactly how to display the colors. So that way when I edit a photo on my laptop in Photoshop and save it either to post on-line or to give to someone else there's a little ICC profile embedded that will hopefully ensure that what someone else sees on their screen is very close to what I saw on my screen when I created the image.

Unfortunately none of the most popular web browsers recognize ICC profiles. This means they just take a stab at exactly what the colors should look like and it usually results in inaccurate and lackluster results. I'd always noticed that my photos uploaded to Flickr never looked as good as they did when I had the image opened in Photoshop; and that's why. That also means that everyone else who views my photos on-line is seeing a duller, less accurate version of my pictures.

When I found out that Safari does recognize ICC profiles I gave it another shot and was amazed what a difference it made. We've been discussing it a little on one of the photography forums I belong to and one of the guys loaded the same image in 5 separate browsers, took a screen shot, and posted the results on Flickr. The results are pretty apparent even if you're currently using a browser that doesn't recognize ICC profiles (and only 6.76% of you are). It's even more obvious looking at the image with Safari.

If you click on the image posted it will link you to the Flickr page where you can tell which image is from which browser by scrolling the mouse over it. Quite eye opening!
Safari doesn't have quite the same interface as Firefox but it's pretty close and I'm getting used to it. It's well worth it though to be looking at accurate color in on-line images though and I'm quite happy.

I'd highly recommend to anyone to explore some different web browsers; they're pretty much all better then Internet Explorer and let you do some really cool things while being more secure. For the most part they're all free and all very easy to use. The interface is basically identical from one to the other for basic usage; it's only as you did deeper that you find the real differences, so it's not like it's hard to learn to use a new browser.

Here are some links to websites for the more popular browsers-

Firefox

Safari

Camino (from the creators of Firefox but for Mac only)

Opera

Out of those Safari is the only one to recognize ICC profiles. Firefox would probably be your best bet though if you want to try another browser for the first time. It's really gaining in popularity and works with nearly every website out there without problem. You can run into issues with some sites not working properly with certain browsers. For instance this is the first blog post I've done since downloading the new Safari beta and it seems to have a problem when I try to post links; so I just switched over to Firefox and everything works dandy. Still though, I heartily recommend you give Safari a try just to see how different the colors are between browsers.

And let's see that percentage of Explorer users start to drop!! :)








Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ahhhhhhh......

And now for something a little different. I've been keeping a personal journal along with my blog and instead of just retyping much of the same thing; I figured I'd just paste my latest entry as a blog update.

I've been kind of down on myself the last few days, looking back over the nearly 3 months that I've spent on the road so far. All the wondrous things that I've seen but haven't really appreciated. Things that I thought were going to be spectacular that it turns out I thought were just so-so, even though other people raved about them. I was really beginning to think that I didn't appreciate things enough and that maybe I was totally wasting my time on this trip. But I'm starting to change my thinking today.

The last two days I've covered the shortest amount of territory on what I'd consider “travel days” since I left Iowa. I always mean to just take my time and stop where ever I feel like but I never actually do it. The last couple days I have though. I found a place to sleep early last night which gave me plenty of time to collect fire wood before dark and sit in my chair and read my book until dark; when I started a fire and had a couple glasses of hot chocolate. Today I probably covered less then 100 miles stopping to take a short 4 mile hike in the middle of the day that turned into a decent amount of time after I spent quite a while just sitting back and relaxing at the falls. I meandered my way a little farther north on Rock Creek Road where at the last second I swung into the Rock Creek Fish Hatchery where I got to spend 50 cents for a couple handfuls of food to feed the trout and tour the facilities a little bit; I was the only one around. I love feeding the trout in the pools at the fish hatcheries out here, it's a blast! There are tons of them and they go crazy for those little pellets. Throw one in and watch them all race for it or throw in a bunch and watch the swirling twisting mass of fish as they swarm the area and swipe up every last little bit.

I took a little walk down the trail at the hatchery to the creek and found the black berries were finally ripe so I stopped and spent about 20 minutes just picking and eating the berries. I've been eating them for the last few weeks when I've found them but they've never been fully ripe until now. I was having a fantastic time and realized that I really do appreciate things, it's just the small things. I remembered back to all the small discoveries that I'd made while driving or on hikes that might not have been that incredible but they were surprises and they absolutely delighted me at the time. And I thought, you know what, I'll take appreciating the small things over the big things any day.

Just a few miles north of the fish hatchery I was following a road that followed Rock Creek and I started looking for a place along the creek to stop for the night. It only took about a mile to find a little pull off on a rocky beach right next to a large, deep, quiet pool with little rapids on either end of it. Just a perfect spot and I'm sitting in my camping chair, watching the fingerling trout feed and drinking a glass of wine as I type this.

After seeing the redwoods I finally feel like I can relax up here. Since I've decided not to see Glacier Lake on this trip there really isn't anything that I feel the need to see anymore. So far on this trip I've constantly been trying to plan out what I'm going to see next and how I'm going to work it all together in the schedule. The Redwoods were really the last thing on that list and I feel so relaxed now. I've had about 4 days to make it back to Portland after leaving Redwood National Park and I've made good use of all of them. I've already been to Portland, already met Jim and his family, and already worked at his shop. I feel no pressure or rush to get back and I'm really enjoying it. When I'm in Portland I hope the feeling will continue. I hope I'll finally just be able to relax and just take what comes. Not to say I haven't enjoyed myself so far, I have immensely, but this is different.

I can't believe it's been almost 3 months already since I've left Iowa and I can't believe I only have a couple weeks before I'll be leaving the PNW and heading back to the midwest (for a visit). But you know what? I think these last couple weeks have a good chance of being the best couple weeks of the trip so far. Time will tell.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Big Tree Country

After I left Mount Rainier I figured I had the perfect amount of time to head down to northern California to check out the Redwoods. I'd have about a week before I needed to be back in Portland so that should give me enough time for a leisurely drive down the coast along Hwy. 101 and then I could meander my way back north. All I can say is that the Oregon coast is absolutely amazing! Everything from nice sandy beaches to tall craggy cliffs to mile and miles of sand dunes. It's all very diverse and all very beautiful. The weather was cool and overcast for the whole drive but I think it made some of the scenery even more spectacular, while dulling others. Either way it fit my mood well. I felt like just spending some time in the car driving and thinking and it was perfect for that. I didn't make a whole lot of stops for exploration along the way but I did get out for some good hikes. The most memorable was getting up early and hitting some trail along the coast, not knowing where I was it where it went. It led down to a beach where I found plenty of surfers up and it it early on a Monday morning (apparently I'm not the only slacker without a job). From there the trail continued to the end of a cape where I found a nice place to sit and just take in the incredible scenery.

After a couple days I made it into northern California where I entered Redwood National Park. You know how everyone says you can't prepare yourself for the massive size of the trees? That you have to see them in person to appreciate their incredible size?

Well, they're wrong!

Hearing that over and over along with thousands of pictures of people being dwarfed by these trees does a pretty good job of preparing you for what you see in the park. Not only that but the really big trees take up a pretty small portion of the park so it's not like you're surrounded by acres of these mammoths. That's not to say that the trees aren't impressive though, they are...but it wasn't the life changing experience most people make it out to be, at least not for me anyway. I actually think the trees look bigger in the picture I took of me standing next to one then they did in person. Maybe that's because I was hiking alone so I didn't have anyone else there for comparison sake.

Still, I had a fantastic time in the park and I'm very glad I went. I hiked the Redwood Creek trail to 44 camp where I spent the night before getting up the next morning to check out the “Tall trees” area of the park. It was a long hike with a really heavy pack but I managed to survive. Apparently it was slug mating season because they were getting it on all over the place; I don't know why they can't find someplace a little more private for doing that. Or maybe they're exhibitionists and they like people taking pictures of them doing it.

When I arrived in 44 camp I only found one other person there, this guy (John Elliot). He was sitting next to his tent with his guitar and strumming a tune. We talked for a while and it turns out he's a musician and is originally from Minnesota. It was nearly dark when I got to camp so after talking a little I went to set up my own camp and cook something to eat. As I cooked and laid down to sleep for the night I was treated to my own personal concert deep in the woods. You wouldn't think the woods would do much for acoustics but it sounded like being in a concert hall. The next morning we chatted a little more and parted ways; but not before I found out the name of his band and website. He's done the whole 'travel in your car on the cheap' deal too and it was fun to talk to someone else who'd had similar experiences. He seemed like a cool guy and I enjoyed talking to him. I downloaded his album that's available on i-Tunes and it's some pretty good stuff, you might want to check it out. Just search for "the hereafter" on iTunes and you should find it.

On my way to the tall trees grove I crossed Redwood creek and found a gorgeous, deep blue/green pool that looked amazing. There were plenty of little tadpoles swimming around and some small trout a little farther out in the pool. All along the rocky shoreline were tons of small little toads only about 3/8” long. After hiking around a little more I decided it was time to head back to the car, it was a 9+ mile hike after all. Thankfully the pack was lighter now that I'd eaten most of the food and drank a lot of the water. I thought about staying another night in the park but decided to head out instead. Though I enjoyed driving the coast down through Washington and Oregon the traffic was a little heavier then I'd like for a relaxing trip, not made any better because of the all the slow moving motor homes on Hwy. 101.

As I was working my way to the coast from Olympia I saw there was some real beauty inland as well. Lots of dense, deep forests and pastures on small blacktop highways that ran through rural towns that reminded me a lot of small towns in the midwest. I'd parked on a gravel and just spent some time walking the woods along the road and I decided I wanted to do some more of that on the way back. So I took off on Hwy. 199 in northern California to get myself inland a little bit as I headed north.

I'm amazed at how fast the weather changes when you get away from the coast. The whole time I've been along the coast the weather has mainly been in the mid-70's with many days only in the 60's. When I left the Redwoods the temp was only in the 60's and it felt a little on the cool side. After only 1 1/2 hours or so of driving I found myself back in the mountains of southern Oregon and a little ways from the coast. As I was going to sleep last night I realized that I was uncomfortably warm as I tried to sleep for the fist time since I'd left on my trip. Checking the weather today finds the temperature here in Grants Pass, OR to be in mid-80's while just a little ways west on the coast the temp is in the mid-60's. That's just not something I'm used to in the midwest. If it's hot in one area of the midwest you can be pretty sure it's hot in the entire midwest.

Today has been a big lazy catch up day for me. I've spent pretty much the whole day here in Grants Pass getting some photos organized and catching up with some stuff online. I've still got a couple days until I need to be back in Portland so there's no rush at all. Boy, I'm sure getting used to living like this; I hope I can survive a weeks worth of work.

I doubt I'll see much more of the actual coast on this trip and I've put together a Flickr set with many of my shots from the coast if you want to check it out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Mount Rainier

After leaving the Seattle area I headed towards Mt. Rainier. The more I'm around mountains the more I like them and I hadn't ever spent any time around one this tall. My knee was feeling in good shape and I was in the mood for a good, long hike. I got to the mountain after dark and after finding some information about trails in the park I went to sleep for the night. I planned on waking up early to catch the sunrise on the mountain but when my alarm went off at 5:00am I really didn't feel like getting up and when I looked out I saw the sky was overcast anyway, so much for a sunrise. So I went back to sleep for a couple more hours.

I finally hit the trail about 9am and had a great hike through the woods. The sun had come out and the scenery was gorgeous! Mount Rainier is a very impressive site and I hiked until I got to “The Wedge”. This is a small wedge shaped (imagine that) glacier where the trail goes from rocky to snow and ice. It's called a glacier but it just looks like a snow pack. It's where the hikers who are climbing to the summit stop to put on their now gear and spikes to make it to Spencer camp at 10,o00 feet. As much as I wanted to just keep keep climbing up the snow I thought better of it since my knee doesn't need any more trauma right now. Instead I stopped at the bottom of the glacier to eat my lunch.

As I was eating I was eyeballing the steep ridge behind me. The map called it St. Elmo's pass and I figured I'd climb to the top of it figuring there should be a good view from up there. It didn't look that steep until I actually started climbing it, but that's the way it always goes. There was some tricky footing since it was all scrambling up loose rocks but I made it without incident and was treated to what may have been the best view I've seen so far on my trip! The top of the ridge was sharp like a knife edge and bare rock/gravel slides dropped steeply on either side of it giving me an excellent view of Winthrop Glacier and a huge valley on the other side. Winthrop Glacier looked more like I'd expected a glacier to look. Full of cracks and crevices as it worked it's way down from the mountain.



I'd started off the day at 4000 feet and now I was sitting at 7500. If I continued along the ridge towards the mountain there were some really craggy outcroppings that could get me higher and give me an even better view. I started climbing them and found the going very tough since the slope was very steep and consisted of nothing more then loose rock and gravel that had been sliding down. There was hardly any firm footing to be found and even large rocks that looked like they should be sturdy would give way with any pressure and go sliding down the slope. I picked away at it though and got as far as I could without actually risking killing myself. I'd only managed to make it to 7825 feet but it was totally worth it. I stayed up there about an hour just soaking in the sites and taking a little nap in the sun. It was kinda chilly up that high but sitting in the sun and behind a rock to stay out of the wind it was very comfortable.

Finally it was time to go so I picked my way back down the slope (which was much harder then going up) and hiked my way back to the trail head. It was about 6pm when I got back so I started a little fire to make myself some hot chocolate and just read for a few hours before going to bed. I thought about going for another hike in the morning but I figured it would be impossible to top the hike I already had so headed out for my next adventure in the morning.

You can see a few more pictures from Rainier in this Flickr set. When I get a chance I'll upload some more to it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Bye Bye Seattle

After spending a few weeks in the Seattle area it was time to say goodbye on Thursday. I had a great time while I was there and I just wanted to thank everyone for their hospitality.

My reason for being in the Seattle area in the first place was to do some work. Buck offered me work for the last two weeks in July a couple months ago and the way things worked out I was able to take him up on it. He kept telling me the place was a run down pit in our e-mail conversations and he had me a little bit worried, but once I showed up I found it was a pretty clean shop after all, though I never could convince Buck of that. I had a great time working with Buck and Ted; it was a laid back atmosphere and a fun place to work at. Once we got past the whole o-ring fiasco and the Escort with a cracked flex plate that twisted our tails for a while things were great. Still though, I'm getting pretty used to not working so I was happy when my two weeks were up and I could go back to just being a bum again. Buck and his wife Nancy were even kind enough to invite me over for a Barbecue at his place one Sunday.

I needed a place to stay while I was in the area and since Buck and Nancy had a new born baby their place was out of the questions. Thankfully Sarah came to the rescue since she had a couple friends who only lived about 20 minutes away from the shop. She called them up and they said they'd be happy to put me up while I was in the area. I got a long swimmingly with Tim and Katherine and I really enjoyed their company. The gave me some great restaurant recommendations, took me out for great Sushi, gave me a great haircut, and Tim even invited me along on a great 4 day bicycle trip in the San Juan Islands. It was just great! I couldn't have asked for any better hosts.

I wanted to get back down to Olympia again to meet up with Mr. Pico himself, Tom Roberts, but it just didn't look like it was going to work out. That is until I found a bunch of roads washed out at Mount Rainier and I had to return through the Olympia area. I gave Tom a call on short notice and he said he'd be happy to put me up for the night. I got to his place Saturday evening just in time to fire up the grill and get cooking. While Tom was cooking the ribs we ate fresh out of the garden cauliflower as showed me his new building he's putting up that will be his new storage, testing, training, and play center. The building is coming right along and it looks like it's going to be very nice when it's all done. Unfortunately I showed up after Tom got done doing all the trenching earlier that day so I couldn't help out.

After an excellent meal of pork ribs and fresh broccoli Tom remembered that he was out of milk so we hopped in his souped up Mustang for a 'quick' drive to the store. Wow, what a rush! That was by far the fastest car I'd ever been in and Tom knew how to handle it. Very impressive! We spent the rest of evening chatting a little and Tom showed me some of the powers of the Pico scope, which truly is impressive.

The next morning it was time to hit the road again and begin my trip south down Hwy. 1o1 to northern California for a quick visit before returning to Portland for more work. Thanks again to everyone that I met during my stay in the Seattle area, you all made it a memorable stop.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Seattle and Safeco

I spent a little over 2 weeks in the Seattle area working in Tacoma and staying with some new friends in Des Moines and I didn't actually get to Seattle until the last day I was there. I headed to Seattle a little after noon on Wednesday and planned to spend the whole day there. I started by stopping by Glazer's camera store to find a new camera bag or two but didn't have any luck finding anything that fit my needs. I'm a total sucker for bags and I'm amazed I left empty handed. After that I drove through downtown and found a place to park my car so I could stroll down to Pikes Place Market, which I guess has to be on every tourists agenda. Maybe I just wasn't quite in the mood and maybe it's just because I don't like really touristy stuff but I wasn't terribly impressed. It's just a large open market with pretty much the same stuff you see at every open market everyplace in the country. The only exception was the fish vendors where salmon were flying willy nilly to the delight of the large crowds gathered around the watch it. The whole thing was pretty much like a circus and there were even barkers at the flower and fruit stands.

I ducked into a restaurant to grab some food and although I knew I should be getting seafood the strawberry and blueberry pancakes on the menu board sounded really good. The place didn't look that busy but I waited around about 5 minutes in a line with about 10 other people to be seated with no acknowledgment before I decided to get food somewhere else. I walked across the street and ordered greek just for spite....it wasn't very good.

I was thinking about leaving Seattle early and not going to the Mariner's game but decided I'd give the market one more chance and I walked down into the lower levels. While the upper level had been packed the lower levels were nearly deserted, it was weird. The shops still weren't very interesting but at least they were different. I found a used book store and spent about 1/2 just looking around. I was feeling a little better when I left and I ducked into a Army/Navy surplus store to look for some bags and camping gear. I ended up finding a Camel Back with extra storage for a little food and a camera as well as some really light weight SmartWool socks that I'd been unable to find anywhere. Spending money always seems to cheer me up so I was in pretty good sprits by the time I left the store. I walked towards the space needle so I could get a shot of it before returning to my car so I could get to the ballpark early and explore it a little.

I got to Safeco Field about 1 1/2 hours before the game started and got a ticket for lower outfield seats in right field. I figured it would be cool to be sitting in right field to watch Ichiro in action, it wasn't until game time that I remembered he'd been switched the center field. I found my seat which was just a few rows up from the outfield wall and it was a great place to watch batting practice. A few balls got hit over the fence and one came within just a few feet of me. I didn't have a glove so I didn't feel the urge to go for it, instead letting the guy next to me have a clean shot at it. He totally botched the catch though (and he did have a glove!) so someone else got the ball.

I walked all around the park and went clear up into the top rows where I was greeted with a great view of the city skyline; Seattle really is a pretty city. Just before the game started I ordered some “World Famous Grounders garlic fries” and chicken fingers. I don't know what it is about baseball stadiums that makes it seem perfectly reasonable to spend extravagant amounts on food and drink but I just can't help myself. I got back in my seat and as soon as I sat down a lady behind me asked if I was a season ticket holder.

It seems she was part of a large group of people attending the game and when they bought their group of tickets the seat I was in was the only one they wouldn't sell the group. It must be held by a season ticket holder who gave it up for that game or something. Anyway, she told me I was in the middle of a large group of prosecuting attorneys who worked for the King County DA's office. It seems the DA had died last year and in honor his son (who is about 35-40) was throwing out the first pitch of the game. They were all here to cheer him on. They were a pretty fun group so I was happy to stand up and cheer with them. They were all holding signs and the cameras panned the entire group while the first pitch was being thrown so I got to be on the big Jumbo-tron screen in Centerfield. I was really enjoying myself and although I was going to try and limit my spending at the game I couldn't help but pay $7.25 for a Mike's Hard Lemonade when the vendor walked by. Like I said, there's just something magic about ballparks.

It turned out to be a great ball game too. Felix Hernandez pitched a good game for Seattle who had a comfortable lead going into the late innings and I got to see Ichiro make an excellent running catch in center and then throw out the runner at home who tried to tag. Gary Matthews Jr. (whose father I used to watch play right field for the Cubs growing up) hit a 2 run home run with 2 outs in the top of the 9th for the Angels to tie the game at 7-7. It was a rare blown save for Seattle's star closer J.J. Putz.

Extra innings were exciting too with the Mariners getting out of a couple bases loaded jams before finally loading the bases in the bottom of the 12th and somehow sneaking a grounder through the infield after the Angel's had brought in their centerfielder to be a 4th infielder. I was surprised how many of the crowd stuck around on a week night and they were a pretty happy and rambunctious crowd after the Mariners pulled off a win against the team they're chasing for a lead in the AL West.

I ended up having a great day in Seattle but it felt great to finally be back on the road again and heading somewhere new.

If you want to see a few more pictures from the game you can see them here

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Do what your mother says

A little while back my mother left a comment (complaint) on my blog-

Hey, the food looks delicious and you're a great cook (I know from experience what you can do with a can of tuna!), but I want more pictures of other things. Can I make some requests? I'd like to see a photo of an animal or bird that would never be seen in Iowa, a cat, and an interesting shadow. And you! And can you get them all in one shot? Just kidding.

I don't normally take 'requests' when it comes to photos because I usually just take pictures of what I want when I feel like it, but it just so happened that the day after she left that I finally got around to posting my wrap up of the Olympic Peninsula which included pictures of some slugs and marine life that you'll never see in the Midwest.

Then while I was spending some time in the San Juan islands this past weekend I heard a noise behind me while out for a walk and found a friendly little kitty who was happy to get some attention before laying down in the shade for another nap.

While walking around a Marina in the San Juans I also liked the way the reflecting water looked in a shadow on the side of yacht so I took a snap of that too.

When I decided to shave my head I couldn't do it without setting up the camera and some lighting to document the process so that took care of more pictures of me. Not to mention one of my new cameras has a flip around screen to make self portraits a real breeze now so expect to see more of them.

So I guess I can say I did them all on my own but I know that in the back of my head I was thinking I needed to do what my mother says and that's the real reason for them.

San Juan Islands

Tim, who I'm staying with in the Seattle area, invited me along on a 4 day bicycle trip into the San Juan Islands and I took him up on it. He's a youth minister and was leading a group of mainly college age kids on this trip. He made some calls and found me a bicycle I could borrow and I was all set. We ferried out to Lopez Island where we spent a couple days camping and then ferried over to San Juan Island to finish up our trip. Tim was driving a truck and trailer that carried all our supplies so it made it really easy since we didn't have to lug around all our camping gear. Food was provided by the church and no one went hungry by any stretch of the imagination.

The islands are kind of interesting in that they have some gorgeous coast line but once you get into the interior it kind of reminded me of being back in the midwest (except there were a lot more hills on the islands). It's pretty rural with lots of acreages and farm houses and a lot of people are growing crops of some sort. Personally I've seen plenty of farms, acreages, and fields so I spent the majority of my time around the coast.

The trip was just what I needed. It was great to just be alone on a bicycle, taking in the scenery and going wherever I wanted. I spent a lot of time on the beaches were I saw plenty of jellyfish (both alive and dead) as well as herons, bald eagles, and all other sorts of sea life. I also found plenty of nice places in the sand to lay down for a nap, which just can't be beat. There were also plenty of berries along the road side that were just getting ripe and were begging to be picked.

One day while hanging around the dock I helped a guy dock his little dingy and he unloaded about three 5 gallon buckets of crabs that he'd caught that day. He proceeded to clean them right on the dock and in no time had a bucket full of cleaned and ready to cook crab. He comes out here every year for a week or so with his family and they pretty much live off of crab while they're here. It seems everyone has some sort of Iowa connection that I talk to and he was no different. His grandfather grew up in Des Moines (Iowa, not Washington) and went to school at the U of I.

One of the days we were on Lopez Island I walked (my loaner bike was broke) to Spencer Spit where I found a couple of the girls who were along on the trip had biked to. We hung out there for a while together and while we were walking along we kept getting squirted on the legs with water. They said it was clams spitting the water, which I'd heard before but didn't quite believe because when I was in Maine a few years back I'd dig a little in the sand and never find any of the offending clams. They said that you have to be very quick and that the clams would dig down very fast. I never would have guessed that a clam could do anything quickly but they seemed to know what they were talking about.

Just as I was walking down the beach to leave the spit I saw a big squirt of water about 10 feet away and I could see the tip of the clam just sticking above the sand. I lunged for it and as soon as I started to move it disappeared from site. It was right on the edge of the water so the sand was very easy to dig on. I dug down and immediately felt the clam just an inch or two under the surface but before I could grab ahold of it it had already dug down farther. We both kept digging and digging and it kept just ahead of me. I was finally able to get my finger tips wrapped underneath it but I still couldn't pull it up out of the sand. My fingers were hurting from digging so hard in the sand and the muscles in my hands hurt but I was finally able to dig underneath the clam and pry it out. I was amazed how strong they were.

It was a pretty amazing creature. It kept its shell partially open nearly the whole time I had it so I could see inside of it a little. It's muscles looked huge and I could even see a tiny crab way back inside waving his tiny pinchers around, apparently trying to get my attention so I'd free him. No such luck for him though. After having my fun inspecting it I put in back in the sand to let it get back to whatever it is that clams do.

All in all it was a great time and a big thank you is due to Tim and Grace Lutheran Church for letting me join them on their outing.

To see the rest of the photos from the trip you can check out this Flickr Set

You've reached the end of the page but that's not the end of the stories. If you want to read more (and who wouldn't!?) then click on the archive links to the right hand side of the page. They're listed by month; the adventure starts in May.

The February archives aren't actually from this trip but are previous adventures I've had, which are worth reading as well.