Sunday, July 26, 2009

Too much pensive stuff for you? Okay, fine; Try this then

Check me out! I am:

Humanoid Intended for Worldwide Exploration, Nocturnal Destruction and Efficient Education

Get Your Cyborg Name

'Worldwide Exploration'? 'Efficient Education'?
Totally. Hahahahahaha!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All is said and Done

Epilogue, part 1

When we settled in at McDonald Creek, we found that where there had been a TV in the cabins before, there was none. Oh, my. We found ourselves missing our TV, Sports Center, and, it turns out, the internet. The people in the next cabin over were really missing their Reality TV, apparently. As they walked past our cabin window, they couldn’t help but stop, quite intentionally, to peer in and see what we were up to. For a good long, uncomfortable while. As if it were a perfectly normal, polite thing to do. What’s wrong with people?

The big pane glass window became an easy surrogate for our TV, as we watched the people go by, gazed out at the creek and pondered J’s Mustang. Not having a TV, not having insistent white noise in the background or a continuous barrage of information took a while to get used to. We quickly slowed down to enjoy the birds singing at dusk, the swallows flitting about above the lake, the sweet perfume of the lilac bushes around the cabins, and to find comfort in the sounds of the creek, the rain on the roof and the click and creak of the electric heaters in the darkness of night. There’s purposefulness in the manual engagement of doing dishes into a small dish rack and having to wipe them to clear off a space on the dining table to work, rather than letting them air dry. Thankfully, there’s time to slow down and decompress, and we know well enough to take it. It also lets you consider the possibility of the new. And no matter what things you miss from home, no matter how far you are from home, where you ARE, is home.

Epilogue, part 2

With all the rattling, I gave it a week, but within 48 hours of being home, J put the Mustang out to pasture back at the local Ford ranch.

Old Yeller is no more.

My Roaming Bear now has new wheels:
Don't touch! You'll leave fingerprints!
New wheels Click to see this photo's flickr page

With 4-doors and more cargo capacity and leg room, we’re just itching to take it out for a spin. Somewhere, out there.

The dusty trails call.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Headed back home

J and Chico at JWK's

On our way back, we stopped through Priest River, Idaho, to visit Jim Kline, a high school teacher of mine. We took a hike with him and his five dogs (Bonnie, Emma, Chico, Muttley and Penny), enjoying a great romp up and through the property. We had hot chocolate inside, and caught up more and surveyed the garden, as Old Man Kline brushed out his dogs. We packed into the car, smelling of dog, promised to not wait so long for the next visit and headed on our way back home.

We stayed at the same hotel in Spokane as we did on our way out and managed to find yummy Thai food as well, a little bit of comfort food after a few days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Mount Rainier

From Spokane, we stopped by Mount Rainier. We tried to see the meadows at Paradise and Sunshine while there, but the entry roads at the parks were closed, still not open for the season. Drat!

We drove on and had dinner in Salem, Oregon then got back on the road. We ran into alternating 5-mile stretches of road where Oregon has the freeway under construction. J’s three most hated words? “Construction Zone Ahead”. The slower speeds dragged out the drive. Although it’s all lovely, the scenery is much the same in the dark, after all. We pulled into Grant’s Pass, after another long, long day.

Driving south our last morning on the road, the lush forests of Oregon thinned and we could tell we were getting closer to being back home in California. As if to welcome us back, in Yreka (right at the border) there was one last clump of California poppies still blooming, well past its normal spring-time season, waving at us along the side of the road. A few more miles later, the oldies station played the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl”. The types of cars, license plates and rising temperatures all confirmed: Yep, we’re back in California!

We decided to improvise a bit and drove through Lake Tahoe on the way home. They’re doing road construction there, too (we have this knack for finding construction on our way home)!
We had lunch at the Blue Agave at Tahoe, devoured some chips and salsa with our lunch, and supped up some mightily fine margaritas. A bit later, we stocked up on calories, sugar and caffeine at the Nestle’ Café at Heavenly, then headed home along the 395. The late afternoon sun caught the hillsides and cast long purple shadows, and our approach to Mono Lake was luxuriously bathed in … sunset.

Lunch in Tahoe and sunset along the Sierras? Can the BigBear deliver? [sigh]

Unfortunately, the High Sierra Café, which everyone knows is open 24 hours a day serving up their incredible Chicken-Fried Chicken, was closed when got to Lone Pine. Closed?! We were horrified! … and very hungry! We found a couple of burgers and headed onward. We got home at 2:30am, unpacked the Mustang, and plunked down in our bed, dead tired.

The next morning, we squinted in the bright sunlight that flooded the living room and considered the 80-to-90 degree weather of the day ahead and quickly set in to enjoy the comforts of home: our own coffee, shower, kitchen and best of all, our own washer and dryer.

Dirty Laundry

Mmmm, home sweet home.

What? It's over? Catch all the photos here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Roaming Bear

Along the hike to Ptarmigan

East Glacier

The view at our Swiftcurrent cabin

Moving along: The road trip continues...

After staying three days at the west side of Glacier National Park, we drove over for another three nights at the east side. The road that directly connects the two, Going-to-the-Sun Road, goes over Logan Pass and gives visitors access to more hiking and, of course, spectacular views. We’d checked the progress of the snowplow crews ahead of time and crossed our fingers that they’d finish before we got there. But, unfortunately, the winter was unusually tough this year, and the pass wasn’t open yet.

We drove around via the route to the south and arrived at our cabin at Many Glacier/Swift Current. After enjoying the luxuries at McDonald Creek, our micro-cabin had:
a sink (ie. no toilet or shower), bed, table, two wooden benches and one upholstered chair. Spartan, yes, but it was as we remembered it from the last trip, so there were no surprises. And the heater in the cabin this time actually worked, so we certainly weren’t complaining.

We saw critters:
- About a dozen rocky mountain goats far above us along the Ptarmigan/Iceberg trail
- A bear sow nursing her cub on the road driving away from Many Glacier Lodge, also high up on the mountain. They were very aware of the crowd, far below, but seemed very content
- A hawk flying over the river at the Park entrance at Saint Mary, then returning to its nest, with a fish!

Even the Mustang, for all its woes, managed to get some reassuring love - While driving into the Saint Mary park entrance, the park ranger stepped out to fully appreciate our Bright (almost gamboge) Yellow car from California and said, “Love the car! Come on in!”, waving us in with a hearty laugh.

J remembered a great meal we had during our last trip, and without much trouble, we found the Snowgoose Grille and had an incredibly savory dinner of bison meatloaf with red wine and mushroom gravy. Was it that good? Oh my yes. My eyes are rolling back in bliss just at the memory. Certainly worth writing down to remember to share with all of you, that’s for sure.

Driving back from dinner, we saw a herd of about 50 not-so-wild cows, meandering along the roadside, enjoying their dinner as well.

The food and the critters, though, all take a backseat to all the hiking available on the east side of the park. From our cabin, we hiked along the Ptarmigan/Iceberg trail twice, the second day going as far as Ptarmigan Falls. We stopped for lots of photos and enjoyed a nice warm day.

Our last full day there, we woke to a grey morning. We had breakfast and, feeling not so inspired, took a nap [Hey, we're on vacation - we can take naps if we want to].

We woke with more motivation and set out to hike the trail to Grinnell Lake. While you can take a ferry across Lake Josephine then hike to Grinnell, it’s far more scenic to walk along the lakes, through the firs, spruce, and lush meadows.

Trail to Grinnell Lake - looking back

... and looking ahead

I recall the first time I visited the park, I had the very distinct thought, “Boy, if I were a grizzly bear, I’d live here!” I know there are bears at Yosemite, causing mischief by rummaging through cars and campsites at night. But at Glacier, the bears aren't punks. There’s far more open space, and lots of roots, berries and grub for bears. Not surprisingly, we saw lots of evidence of bear feasting: lots of huge piles of scat. They made sure there was no question at all - we were traipsing through their territory.

J would stop and set up to take photos of the landscape and people would always ask if maybe he was shooting some critter far off in the distance. "What'cha got? A bear?!" They were always so disappointed to hear that no, he was taking a photo of “just” the (gorgeous) scenery.

Jan capturing Grinnell Lake

From my hiking book, 'Best Easy Day Hikes: Glacier and Waterton Lakes':
The luminous aquamarine color of the water is derived from glacial flour, a finely pulverized rock sediment suspended in the lake. As sunlight enters the water, it is diffracted by the suspended silt so that only light in the blue and green parts of the spectrum can escape.

Just gorgeous...

Our last evening at Glacier, we dined on popcorn, microwaved at the gift shop at the lodge, huckleberry saltwater taffy and Choco-Taco ice cream treats. We sat outside the lodge and watched both people and the weather pass by. Clouds and mist would waft through, a few wisps at a time. As night drew deeper, you could tell that a storm was a’brewin’, and sure enough, we slept to the sound of rain on the roof of our micro cabin.

Did you just get here? All the photos are here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Road Trip: Why?

Perhaps you are wondering why we were so intent to drive so far?
Were the photos of Lake McDonald not enough? Here’s a bit of the view out our cabin, along McDonald Creek.

Staying right at the Creek

You step out the cabin door, wander over about 15 feet towards the creek, and it looks like this:

McDonald Creek

We were finally able to swap time in the car for some time on the trails. We hiked to Avalanche Lake, stopping a couple times to take photos. At the Lake, I blocked in a quick sketch of the mountains across the lake with their waterfalls, but sensed that I had become a bit of a spectacle, people peering over, trying not to be obvious in their attempt to see what this drawing person was drawing. Or, maybe, not really even worrying about being obvious ("Oh. Look what she's doing. I'm going to go see").

Okay, so, I’m not real keen on being a public spectacle.
At least, not without being paid.

I packed up my sketchbook and we turned our attention to gobbling up our granola bars. Thankfully, people aren't so excited about peering over to watch other people eat their granola bars.


The next day was grey and we let ourselves have a slow, late start, enjoying the luxury of being able to make our own breakfast.

We worked out at Moving Image Health gym at Columbia Falls (and you thought we were just sleeping-in-late, lazy bums, didn't you? Ha!) where J has gone several times before while staying at Glacier. It turns out the owners are selling the business, retiring after 20 years. While we were there, there was a steady stream of local members, moms with kids, people coming in for the tanning beds, all sorts of people. The shower rooms (at least the women’s) was cozy and homey, with toiletries and towels supplied, in case you didn’t remember to bring any. You can't beat that kind of hospitality!

Connie, the owner, seemed happy, but not surprised, to hear that we’d come from so far. She said they got a lot of out-of-town people on vacation coming to work out at the gym. She mentioned a visitor from Australia who’d been in the week before. The gym had just raffled off a gift basket for the Relay for Life. A gift basket filled with booze. Apparently, lots of booze. The Australian dude sees the basket, on display atop the check-in counter and, his eyes bugged out, “What the heck is that?!?”. His girlfriend later told Connie that they knew they’d picked the absolutely right gym to work out at.

The gym raised $700 from the ticket sales for the basket of booze.

I picked up a local paper, the Flathead Beacon, after reading through the reports from the week’s police blotter. Here’s a pretty typical sampling, verbatim:

Tuseday, June 9:
11:12 a.m. Someone in Columbia Falls feels as if he is being harassed by a neighbor. In reality, however, he is not actually being harassed.

3:50 p.m. Someone in Hungry Horse was peering through a neighbor’s windows and noticed that a dog had been alone in the home “all day and all night”. [I had to wonder what's the crime here? The dog being left alone? Or the person peering into the neighbor's windows during the day and night? Hmmm!]

8:21p.m. Four miniature donkeys continually run amok in a neighbor’s yard.

10:18 p.m. An individual at a local diner took one bit of his steak, claimed that it was “rotten” and promptly stormed out without paying. He was later located in a gully behind a nearby box store.

Thursday, June 11:
1:09 p.m. Several individuals have taken up residence beneath a cellular tower. Their presence is unwelcome.

5:17 p.m. A small herd of horses was running down Highway 2. Authorities facilitated in an efficient round-up.

2:29 a.m. A father managed to corner his daughter’s boyfriend in her room. Evidently the wily youth likes to sneak in late at night.

I had to stop reading there, not even finishing the rest of the week, when I slowly realized that these crimes, collected from across the county, were probably nothing compared to the mayhem that we suspect happens back home in California, just in our block, alone.

Lake McDonald

See McDonald Creek and more, here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Glacier National Park

Arrival at our cabin Click to see this photo's flickr page

Our road trip continues:

Five days after leaving Southern California, we were finally on our way in towards Glacier National Park. We stopped in Columbia Falls and stocked up at the Smiths:
Bratwurst, bread, strawberries, eggs, mustard, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, cereal, oatmeal packets, milk, chocolate chunk cookies and York Mint patties.

We forgot to get extra water and cheese.

And beer.

Lake McDonald

We trundled on and arrived, finally, at Apgar Village, on the West side of the park, and celebrated with huckleberry ice cream. Sitting outside, in front of the rooms that faced the lake, we watched the clouds clear and the sun hit the hillsides and trees. A brass quartet (?) was practicing over at one of the docks, playing the same chorus over and over, sometimes together, sometimes just one instrument, improvising a bit. The music would be clear one moment, then haunting the next, echoing through and across the lake, much like the patches of fog that would form here and there along the lake, then roll mysteriously towards shore.

There was rain, then clear.
We had beer, then slept.

All the photos are here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A rattling noise

Flathead Lake, Montana Click to see this photo's flickr page

More from The Road Trip:

We settled into Newport, Oregon, content to be like the town: quiet and sleepy.

The car, though, had other plans and started to make a rattling noise.

It was a Saturday and there sure weren’t any auto repair shops open on Sunday. We had to decide: stay and get the car checked in Newport? We’d be behind one day, though. Or, drive ahead so that we could stop in a larger city, like Portland or Seattle or Spokane, to get the car checked there?

We gritted our teeth and drove on.

We drove East from the coast towards Corvallis, passing small farms, idyllic in the lush peacefulness of the morning. The cows looked very content; none of this “Happy Cows come from California” business.

The further east we drove, the less grey it got. When we got to Interstate 5, we turned North. The car didn’t seem to mind the freeway, its rattle silenced by the faster speeds and straighter route. We passed through Portland, then Seattle, then Bellevue... We discovered that in Washington, the Rest Stops have snack bars, staffed with real live people!. With hot coffee. For free! Most stops also offered homemade cookies for a donation, tended by what looked like the local kids. We sure didn’t mind making our pit-stops along the way in Washington.

We drove until Spokane and found a hotel, very, very late. The next morning, J would take the Mustang in to hear its (and our trip's) prognosis.

As is often the case, at the Ford dealer, no one could reproduce the rattling sound, even though J drove around and around with them. The mechanics inspected the car and said it shouldn’t explode to bits or konk out on us. We squinted in our doubt, but somewhat reassured that the car wouldn't explode, headed on.

We were in Idaho briefly as we passed through the skinny panhandle part of the state and headed further East, stopping in Flathead Lake, Montana. So very close to Glacier National Park, but ready to just call it a day. We managed to get a room that looked out onto the lake. We spent some time, our cameras set up to take a photo of a great sunset over the lake that never quite materialized. With the steady sound of rain on the lake, the long, low horns of ships and the songs of birds at twilight, we slept very well, straight through sunrise.

All the photos are here, including a few more shots of Flathead Lake.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Up the Coast and then turn Right


We drove north until Redding then headed west for the Coast. I didn’t realize that the 101 went all the way north! We stopped along the way, roaming as we do, through bays and beaches. We stopped for lunch at Trinidad Bay, had a great sourdough bread bowl of clam chowder and wandered over to the bluffs above the bay to take some photos.

What a great sunny day.

Down below us, a sea critter was lying, just where the surf met the beach.


We thought aloud,
Me: “Is it sleeping? Or is it ...”
J: “... dead?”.

Simultaneous grimaces.

A flipper lazily moved and we both thought, “Whew, just sleeping”.

Our thoughts lifted and we enjoyed the quiet of the town, the sound of the surf, clang of bells and rigging lines, the birds and creaks as people moseyed along the pier. The hillsides were covered with wildflowers, all so different than I’m used to, all the more different, new and delightful.


We spent just a bit of time driving through the Redwoods. I didn’t realize that there’s no real camping and that the parks and forests are preserves. No long, all-day hikes on trails that criss-cross the land? No, I guess not. We took a few short walks on trails, enough to really enjoy the greenness of the ferns that grow thick and lush beneath the majestic redwoods.

Lots of ferns means lots of moisture, and to me, this means blood-sucking bugs! Bugs!! We enjoyed our quick visit and drove on. Places to go!

As we drove further north, we finally got into country where huckleberry grows. And where huckleberry grows, huckleberry ice cream is sold!
A sign commanded, “Avoid calcium deficiency; Eat Ice Cream!”

Who are we to disobey?

All the photos are here.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Up out of the fog

June apparently was an unusually cool month here in Southern California. After being away in 60 degree temperatures, and now sweating through the high 90’s, it’s hard to remember that.

Last summer, I took an online travel writing class. I enjoy starting online classes! It’s the finishing part that’s a bother. Since there was an actual certificate for completing this particular class and since this meant that there were required weekly tests, I actually stuck with the entire class. By the time I finished the class, we’d already done most of our travelling for the summer, and I was disappointed to have let it all slip by so quickly, so mindlessly.

One of the books that I discovered through the class was “The Way of the Traveler” by Joseph Dispenza. It’s helped me prepare for this summer’s travels and to really focus on documenting what’s going by on the side of the road and what’s going by inside my head. So, although I’m having a hard time remembering how cool it was just a month ago, I do have 16 pages of notes in a little Moleskine pocket sketchbook to remind me.

We left my meeting at school and drove off into the cool fog that hung late that afternoon and set off headed north. We eventually rose out of the fog just past Santa Clarita and enjoyed driving through hills bathed in the sensuous waning golden rays of a typical California sunset. We passed through fields and farm; the actual identity of the shadowy critters and crop unidentifiable in the dark.

We drove through Sacramento (one of several State capitols that we’d pass through in two weeks) and at almost 2 am called it a day and settled into a hotel in the next town north. It was the first of many long days; long in time and in distance.

Bleary-eyed, I noted with amusement that all the toiletries were packaged to be succinctly marked, yet still very refined. Containers marked:
Smooth (conditioner)
Cleanse (soap)

And even the pillows were embroidered along the hems of their cases: Firm, soft.

As my head hit my pillow (Firm), I thought, “If only the rest of life could be so well-defined.”

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Foreword : Forward

Click to see this photo's flickr page

We’ve wrapped up our road trip to Glacier National Park, all except for documenting the photos and putting together a scrapbook (which I’m hoping this will kick off). The last few days were busy with scurrying back and forth to pick up last-minute travel-sized items for a two-week road trip. The day that I’d planned to start rolling up my clothes and cramming packing them into my duffle, I also checked on my laptop. The thin plastic skin that covered my battery for my current USB modem was bulging out and looked ready to explode, so although it still worked well, I ordered a new model. When it arrived, I figured I’d make the swap and be good to go.

My laptop would have nothing of it.
I encouraged it, nudged it, begged, smacked it and cursed.


I spent the last two days before our trip not exactly packing as intently as I’d wanted, frantically going to two laptop repair shops only to confirm the nasty horrible prognosis:

I needed to reinstall my operating system.

Ugh! I methodically backed up my data and, biting the bullet, reinstalled my operating system. I glumly stared at my laptop, then glanced at my disheveled duffle bag and backpack and thought, “Ugh!”

The Windows CD stopped spinning as it completed installation of the operating system just minutes before we needed to leave for my last meeting, from which we’d head out onto the road. I spent the first few nights on the road reinstalling software and making sure I could reconnect to the internet, a barebones, but working, stopgap for the full productive connectivity I’d hoped for.

A few more days in, lazily staring out at crops that we were passing by, I realized, of course, that had I waited until we were already on the road to switch over to the new modem, I would have been completely sunk. I wouldn’t have had the Windows disks and software. We’d be hauling around a hefty black Dell brick, totally unusable. So for all the inconvenience and stress, it’s just as well things happened the way they did. And, amazingly enough, I did still have all the system and driver disks to take along, as well as all the software disks, too. I’ve finally, almost 4 weeks later, installed the drivers, and my laptop is about where it should be. Things all work out, in the end.

There was also something remarkably liberating about the idea that my laptop is new, a chance to organize my files better, install just what I need and use, and to move old files directly into archives.
Sometimes when it’s really least convenient, you find that what’s best is to start all over; nothing’s quite working as efficiently as it should anyway. New things aren’t fitting in and you can’t even get to the old stuff to reference or enjoy it. It’s a great leap of faith to know when you’ve really backed up all that you need to, to place your hands on the guiding programs that you’ll need and then go, “Okay, let’s start from scratch!”

And life, I thought, not just our computers, is like that.

Having to grit my teeth and clean my slate was a good challenge to go through, and a fitting foreword to the trip, to Glacier and hopefully, to the rest of the summer.