Thursday, July 31, 2008

Farewell to the Rockies

*Note: this is more or less a post composed from my notes of the past week. The last notes were frantically made as I watched my laptop battery creep down to a mere 3% after transferring the latest batch of photos from my camera. Let's see how good my memory is, shall we?

But first, a couple items from yesterday:

I crossed the continental divide a while back in Glacier NP. Then in Yellowstone, I apparently crossed back. Then back again. Then back. The ridges were pretty small, and it was difficult to tell precisely what was going on, but the net effect placed me back on the Pacific side of the divide. So yesterday, driving east on US Route 26 from Grand Teton NP, I crossed the divide for one grand, final time. To celebrate the occasion, I took a whiz behind a tree. On the western side of the divide, of course; this would be my last opportunity to mark my territory west of the continental divide for a long time. So if you happen to live west of the divide, just a little reminder: you're on my property now. I tagged it.

No tag-backs.

Ok, let's start running through these. There's a lot to get in.

1. Milk was a bad choice: I needed some snaxx for quick energy on my hikes. I thought, how about one of those big party bags of milk chocolate mini snickers bars? Guess what happens when you leave chocolate in a black car parked in the hot freaking sun. Exactly. Luckily, I used *science* to help out. Melted candy bar + pot of cold water = non-melted, albeit Dali-esque tasty candy bar. I takes what I can gets. But note to self: no more chocolate.

2. A fair trade: fire for beer. Back in Montana, I met a nice family from Oakland in the campsite next to me. They had the full-on super camp setup, but they weren't very good at making a campfire. Also, their firewood was pretty wet. I waved hi, they invited me over for a beer, and I got their fire going (pyromania does have its benefits. sometimes). As a bonus, I got to talk football with my new buddy Chris. It was good to get some serious sports talk in. Did I mention that this was at the headwaters of the Missouri? See last week's post. I'm still history buddies with Clark. And he would not have made me his bitch. So don't even think about it.

3. Why do I keep saying Yosemite when I mean Yellowstone, and vice versa? I've been doing it like crazy. No idea why.

4. Yellowstone: crowded as fuck. It was bad, really bad. This is what I get for visiting during peak tourist season. Every single pullout on the road had packed parking lots, and I had to elbow my way past fat Americans and bundles of Chinese tourists on every trail. I prefer the Chinese. They have a more polite culture, and tend to defer to my elbow-throwing. Also, they're not quite as wide, so it's easier to slide by.

5. The adventures of Bad Brad. I'm going to mix it up with a little fiction here. Despite any evidence to the contrary, this is not a real story about me. Fiction. So Bad Brad wanted to hike along the north rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, but the rim road was closed for construction. Closed to vehicles *and* pedestrians. Bad Brad decided this was a foolish restriction, especially on a Sunday. He had worked as a civil engineer, and knew that road crews never worked on Sunday if they could help it. So Bad Brad jumped a couple fences, ignored a few "no entry" signs, and found himself completely alone on an abandoned road. A road especially abandoned by construction equipment (ha!). Then Brad went for a lovely hike along the rim of the canyon, enjoying a the peace and solitude that you can only get by keeping everyone else out. It was a perfect afternoon, and he couldn't have experienced it without breaking a little pointless rule. Then he smoked a doobie to celebrate.

Not bad, eh? I'm considering writing further adventures, like: Bad Brad foils a bank heist by jaywalking. The kindly old Irish cop chides him, but we know that he doesn’t mean it. Like a modern-day delinquent Hardy boy, Bad Brad will capture the imaginations of a generation.

6. Animals. There's a good deal of wildlife in Yellowstone. Whenever animals stray near the road, all the tourists stop to take pictures, creating a unique Yellowstone phenomenon: the bison traffic jam. I also got to “fight” two bears at once. (here, “fight” is taken to mean “observed from a distance"). A momma bear and her cub. She was teaching it how to forage, digging at particularly rich grubs and such. When the cub strayed to far, she'd call and it would come running back on little cub legs. Painfully cute.

7. I get freaking sick of geothermal features. Yellowstone has something like two thirds of all the geysers in the entire freaking world. This is an amazing occurence, but after a while all those fumaroles and mudpots and boiling springs tend to run together. It took me a solid morning to reach my fill, until noon, when I decided...

8. Ok, maybe geothermal features are kinda cool. Geysers! Old Faithful was better than I expected (I'd like to thank my brother for bringing my hopes down: "there's nobody, then like five minutes before it is supposed to blow, thousands of people show up out of nowhere. Maybe they were drinking martinis in the lodge. Then there's a little muddy fountain, and everyone takes pictures then leaves"), and as the first geyser I've ever seen live, it was pretty sweet. As a bonus, Castle Geyser blew about fifteen minutes later, so I got the ol' two-for-one deal on geysers. Value!

9. On to the Tetons: because “Big Titty Mountains” sounds better in French. Grand Tetons. Think about it. The mountains really are spectacular. I highly recommend seeing them.

10. Jackson Lake, or why do all my best memories of this trip involve getting clean? It's been damn hot for the past few weeks, and all this hiking gets me dirty and overheated. A dip in the lake was just what I needed. I've discovered a pattern: All my road tripping now has been during mid-summer, when the heat is at its hottest and the swimming is at its swimmingest. There are few pleasures as great as diving into a mountain lake after a day trudging up and down dusty mountain trails in the hot sun.

11. Did I just get zinged by an old dude? I tend to use poles when I hike. It makes the downhill a hell of a lot easier on my knees, and it allows me to go faster. I get in some serious miles (on average, about 10 a day), so this is a good thing. So I'm hiking down the trail from Mt Washburn, and a pass this old man and his wife. “Goin skiin down the trail, are ya?” he said as I hiked past. I replied something like, “It beats destroying my knees,” and he shot right back with “well why don’t ya get some of them kneepads?”

Zinged. damn.

BONUS: This dude was *old*. We're talking older than the park old. He was likely hiking these trails before cars. With dinosaurs and such. old.

Time to add on items for the 29th as well, while I let my camera photos download. I hope this shit can finish before my battery dies…

12. Again, the Tetons are beautiful. I put in my biggest hike to date, a 20-mile ordeal up Paintbrush Canyon and around Solitude Lake. As the Tetons were my last chance to get in a serious big hike, I figured I might as well go out with a bang. It was perfect -- the weather, the sun, the snow, everything. Impossible to take a bad picture. A monkey with a disposable camera could have developed some Ansel-Adams level prints on that hike.

13. Dave's Law of Hikers: The greater the frequency of encounters with other hikers, the worse my mood becomes. If I pass other people, say, once an hour -- I'll give them a friendly smileand say hello, maybe even throwing in a “how are ya”. Once every ten five minutes or so, and I'll dispose with the pleasantries altogether, possibly even avoiding eye contact. One every two minutes, and I'll start brushing by people with the sort of body language that says "who the fuck are you to get in my way, you worthless pile if shit." Elbows may be thrown. Once a minute: I will stab you with my fucking hiking poles.

14. I do some zinging of my own: On the same hike, getting into the more frequent encounter stage, a woman passes me in the other direction. Without indicating a specific peak, she asks me, “do you know the names of these mountains?” Without missing a beat, I reply: “Grand Tetons.”

Zing, baby. Zing.

15. 20 miles is a long hike. I’m not in TFC shape these days. I must be getting old.

There's probably more, but it's been a busy week and I've been typing here for over an hour now. I've got the Devil's Tower to visit, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"-style.

Adventures to follow


Home at Teapot Dome

There's been an ass-load of stuffs going on this past week. I'm going to hit up the last couple days in this post, and then draw on my notes for adventures in Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Let's do this. In reverse chronological order.

I spent last night camped out under the stars beneath Teapot Dome. This was not my plan. My plan had been, after driving clear across the state of Wyoming, to get a motel room in Casper for some well-needed shower and internet time. I went to a motel. No rooms. I went to a second motel. No rooms. I went to a third motel...

I'll say this much: never again will I underestimate the fantastic drawing power of the mighty metropolis that is CASPER, WYOMING. Apparently this city had not one but TWO conventions starting up today, and the demand was so great that every motel within a couple hour's drive of the city was booked. So no motel for Dave.

I got back on the road heading north, and reviewed my situation:
Been driving for over 8 hours? check.
Sun is going down? check.
Crazy lots of deer near the highway? check.

...Which brings us to why I found myself sleeping under the stars near Teapot Dome. And I learned some things last night:

1. When you are in a remote place like Teapot Dome, miles away from any towns, the stars are brilliant. Countless stars shone down on my little tent, and the broad sweep of the milky way made a bright white arch across the night sky.
2. When you are in a remote place like Teapot Dome, where the speed limit is 65, you learn something: Semi trucks are freaking LOUD. Like end-of-the-world, better-get-religion-fast LOUD.
3. I cannot stress this enough; Casper Wyoming is crazy popular! Also: people who go to conventions are dicks. Dicks who take up hotel rooms.
4. There's something eerie about oil drilling rigs in the light of dusk. The collection of bright lights alone surrounded by perfectly dark prairie...the unnerving scent of refining gases...the slow oscillations of the sawhorse pumps...well, I'm just glad that I'm moving on. An oil field is a sad, lonely place at night.

Other highlights from yesterday:

1. I see the National Bighorn Sheep Center. Apparently, Dubois, Wyoming, is home to the largest herd of Bighorns in the entire country...maybe even in the world. They live on and around the slopes of "Whiskey Mountain" south of the town. Sounds like a good place. Also: one of the natural predators of the Bighorn Sheep is the Golden Eagle. Seriously. This bird can pick up a freaking sheep. I'm all for the Bald Eagle; it's totally cool, and it looks really good on currency. But until it starts picking up livestock, I'm going to have to award the title of "Most Badass Bird" to the Golden Eagle.

2. Jackson Hole is too damn crowded. It's largely my fault for checking the city out during peak tourist season (late July), but still. It's as if you were to take North Conway, make it twice as big, and then smothered the whole thing in a big schmeer of fake cowboy. Not my cup of tea. The mountains nearby look like the skiing is freaking awesome, but I'm not sure if I'd be able to put up with the apres-ski scene there. Or I'd just need to have another beer.

3. The Grand Tetons are absolutely beautiful. More to come on this in my next post. These things were incredible.

4. I've finally managed to find the place where gas is at or below the national average. This morning's fill-up: $3.69/gallon (though it was 85 octane, which sort of concerns me now that I've double-checked my manual and discovered that I shouldn't put anything less than 87 in. "Regular" gas out here is 85 or 85.5 octane, and you need to pay "Plus" prices to get 87. 87 is "Regular" where I'm from. what's up with that? Why do you hate high octane gasoline, Wyoming and possibly also Montana?). Now I just need a year or so of these prices to make up for all the screwjobs I got at the pump in California (note: I fully support increased gas prices, because I see them as the only sure way to force people to start conserving gas. I just feel that I should get a discount because, well, I'm doing a road trip here. Also, I deserve special treatment. Let's go hypocrisy!)

5. There is no #5.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Bozeman, Montana

Bozeman, Montana today. As if you hadn't figured that out already. I'm sitting in the Rockford Coffee shop, taking advantage of some free wifi and electric outlets to charge up my camera battery. My camera started flashin' the ol' red-light-of-death at me this morning, so I decided it was time for some caffeinated chargin-time.

The next stop on my grand tour is the most famous national park of them all, Yellowstone. This morning is my stocking-up time for the park, collecting food and gas and batteries and such. I picked up some fancy new hiking pants the other day in Helena, so now I can hike about without fear of my naughty bits popping out, scaring women and children and the like. So that's good.

To be honest, I'm paranoid as hell about heading into Yellowstone -- I've heard about the crowds and I'm none too confident of getting a camping spot by showing up on a Saturday. But this trip is all about not planning things in advance, so I'll have to do what I've done for the rest of the trip: fly by the seat of my pants. This could explain why my pants always develop holes in the crotch.

Enough about pants. Time for adventures. I was making my way south from Helena yesterday when I noticed a sign for "Lewis and Clark Caverns." Intrigued, I followed the winding road up to the visitor center, where I discovered a limestone cave system that rivaled what I had seen in Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. The caves are over 300' deep, and a trail over a mile long winds through the caverns and tunnels until exiting out a tunnel excavated by the CCC in the 30's. I have to assume that whoever was in charge of the project at the time had a hard-on for blasting, because the exit tunnel is over 500 feet long and took 18 months of continuous dynamite blasting to excavate. It's long enough that the cave requires a 2-door simple airlock at the entrance, because otherwise the pressure difference of the cave and the outdoor air would create 40-mph winds blasting down the tunnel. All in all, the CCC used a massive amount of dynamite and concrete to build the trail through the caves, and they did a damn good job. it even includes the "Beaver Slide," a short little slide carved in the rock that you slip down on the tour, the brilliant limestone rock of the slide polished to a brilliant sheen from the collective ass-polishing by countless visitors. It leaves a beautiful finish, but I get the feeling that it would be difficult to sell limestone countertops advertised as being "ass-polished."


Where was I? Oh yes, the caves. I'm not very good at describing caves, but as caves go, these were very subterranean. There were stalactites and stalagmites, columns and pools, and formations called "cave popcorn" and "cave bacon." I would recommend the tour. It's impressive enough that Teddy Roosevelt had originally protected the caves as the country's 12th National Monument, but years later it was transferred to Montana to be a state park, the reasoning being, well, we've already got one National Park cave, and two would just be silly.

Sweet -- my camera battery is charged. Let's wrap this up. Other adventures yesterday: walking around downtown Helena (an entirely pleasant little city, with a nice history museum across the street from the state Capitol building, and a place downtown that makes some damn good burritos*), and visiting Headwaters State Park.

*So I went to this taco place downtown, and it being 11am, I thought, "let's have a beer." My goal while traveling is to only drink beers brewed locally, if possible, and asked the server if she knew if the "Blackfoot Brewery" was local. She had to check. She checked. Turns out they're in Helena. Seemed local enough for me, so I gave it a go. A nice hoppy lager, nothing particularly special, but just the thing to wash down my late-morning burrito. I'm walking down the downtown pedestrian plaza after lunch, and what to I see? "Blackfoot Brewery." Three blocks away from the restaurant. Definitely qualifies as "local." My question is: how can you serve a beer that's brewed LESS THAN HALF A MILE FROM YOU and not know that it's a local beer?

Headwaters park is located at the confluence of the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers -- the headwaters of the mighty Missouri River. It's a small park, mostly populated by mosquitoes, but it's a big place in the history and hydrology departments. I went for a short little hike this morning to see the source of the Missouri, the longest river in the continent, and after reading the various interpretive signs, realized that I have awesome timing.

July 25, 1805: William Clark, a few days ahead of Meriwether Lewis and the rest of the Corps of Discovery, arrives at Three Forks, the headwaters of the Missouri.

July 25, 2008: Dave, a few hundred years behind Clark, arrives at the exact same place.

I love coincidences. I couldn't have planned shit like this out if I tried. Two Hundred and Three years to the freaking day. Me and William Clark: history buddies.

So now I continue south to Yellowstone and more fun with the grizzly bears. It should be fun.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Damn this laptop is slow

Seriously, this thing is slow. It can barely handle downloading and viewing my digital camera pictures, let alone posting them to the internets. Hell, it freezes up if I type too fast. I suppose that it should be expected, considering that the little guy is almost 8 years old by now. It gets me internets, and for that I should be thankful. Just don't go expecting any fancy multimedia whatevers on this site while I'm updating on the road. Just long, rambling posts. That's what Bears In Cars is all about.

I'm in Helena today, the capital of the great state of Montana. Today is a town day, as I regroup from Glacier National Park and prepare for Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Laundry, shower, haircut, shave, checking the AL East standings -- and of course, a little journal-writin. Check out time is in 2 hours and 9 minutes. Let's see how much I can get in before the deadline.

When I left off, I was two states over in Yakima, WA. I've put some serious miles down since. From Yakima, I drove north along the eastern ramparts of the Cascade Mountains, making my way to the little town of Leavenworth, Washington. Now, for some reason, the entire town has been constructed in the style of a "Bavarian Village." It's like a sort of "quaint" European-Alps-Chalet style with lots of elaborate woodwork and frescoes of stuff on building walls -- like what people in western Washington state would think a village in Bavaria would look like.

Here's the thing:

1. The town doesn't appear to have a significant Bavarian population, and even if it did I'm not sure if they'd want to make their entire town look like a place where the gingerbread man would live.

2. The town is called "Leavenworth." If you're going for the full-on German-Alpen sort of thing, you'd think that they'd at least give the town a German -sounding name, like Dussel-Strassel-Alpen-Burgen-Steiner-Schnitzel. Now THAT's German! Instead, they have one road labeled "Strasse" instead of "Street." Big woop.

3. The Safeway has some sort of facade to keep up the "Bavarian Village" theme. So does the McDonald's. It's...well, words can't capture the resulting crime against architecture. This is what happens when town councils have too much time on their hands, people.

Leavenworth was also crowded as hell. It took me more than 2 minutes to find a parking space for lunch, which means that it wasn't worth it. I headed east, had a picnic lunch, and crossed the Columbia River. And then I was in....

Eastern Washington. It's a big freaking plateau that should be desert, except that one of the more ambitious mass-irrigation projects in the country (thanks, Bureau of Recalamation!) has turned it into a giant wheat field. It is big. And flat. And hot. We're talking 90+. I visited Dry Falls, a lovely bit of geology in the Grand Coulee (I won't bore you with the details. If you're interested, go look it up). And then it was time for some fun.

Background: I'm an engineer. I get nerdy about it. I like to see dams. Big ones. I've seen a number of them on my road trip: Glen Canyon (2 years ago), Trinity, Shasta, The Dalles, and Bonnevile. At every single one of them, I managed to show up just a few minutes after the last tour of the dam had left for the day (if they offered a tour. Most of them did. Also, I keep typing "damn" by mistake. I should look into this). I started to suspect that the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers had conspired together in an unheard-of collaboration for the sole goal of screwing me out of getting a dam tour. "Let's tell him that that last tour left 10 minutes ago every time," they'd snicker. "It'll be great."

So I resolved that I was going to see the dam tour of Shasta. I planned shit out. I camped along nearby Banks Lake and showed up at the dam visitor center the minute they opened in the morning. I would stay all day if I had to.

Luckily, I didn't. That would have been a long day. Grand Coulee Dam is pretty spectacular -- it's the biggest dam in the continent, and the most powerful -- but I can only look at a great mass of concrete and admire how big it is for so long. I got in on the first tour of the day. Finally, I would see the inside of the dam -- the powerplant.

Let's get this out of the way now: Grand Coulee Dam is the kind of dam that gives engineers boners. Everything about it is bigger, or heavier, or more powerful, or more groundbreaking, than any other dam in the country. An individual generator is powered by a water flow greater than most rivers, produces enough electricity to power Seattle, and has moving parts that weigh over 5 million pounds. And there are six of them. In one of three powerplants.

Dude. It. Was. Awesome.

The entire building vibrates from the force of water flowing through the turbines. The powerplant has a crane rated to 2,000 TONS, a custom job larger than anything else in the world, and they still have to break the turbines into parts so they aren't too heavy for the crane. The entire building, a full quarter-mile long, buzzes with the overwhelming sense of primal, all-encompassing, POWER.

This is what happens when you give a civil engineer an unlimited budget. It's pretty sweet.

Ok, enough dam-love. Let's move on.

The remainder of Eastern Washington passed with little fanfare. I drove through some mountains, visited a "grotto" (I learned that "grotto" is a fancy name for "little cave." It was ok, I guess), drove through the Pend Oreille valley, and then I was in Idaho.

Things I did in Idaho:

1. Got gas.
2. Peed.
3. Drove down a dirt road for five miles before I concluded that it was the wrong road.
4. Visited Moyie Falls.
5. Peed.
6. Left Idaho.

I spent nearly two full hours in the state. I passed through the panhandle, the narrowest part of the state, and well, there wasn't a whole lot to see up there. Although whenever I hear the state name, all I can think of is "Idaho? No, YOU da ho!"

I don't think I could have handled that for more than a few hours, anyway.

So then I was in Montana. Big Sky Country. A big state. I visited Glacier National Park, a beautiful place, and got some serious hiking in. It was cloudy for the majority of my visit, but I sitll managed to get some serious scenery in. Glacier is dominated by impossibly steep sandstone cliffs towering about greenish-blue glacier-fed lakes. The "Glacier" part is pretty small, though. The park used to have over 150 glaciers, but after a century of global warming, they've melted down to just a few dozen small glaciers. It's expected that the last of the glaciers will be gone by 2030. So it goes.

The best hike in Glacier? Triple Divide Pass. A seven-plus mile trek up the Cut Bank Creek valley and up the ever-steeper glacier-carved valley walls up to the pass, just a few hundred feet below the bare rock of Triple Divide Peak. From there, you can look down across two majestic glacial valleys, with impossibly blue alpine lakes and waterfalls cascading down 1,000-foot tall cliffs, as clouds break over towering sandstone peaks. Triple Divide Peak is named so because it marks the dividing point between three watersheds: the Columbia, the Saskatchewan, and the Missouri. Three ridges radiate out from the summit, setting the fate of any raindrops that fall near the peak. To the west, everything flows out to the Pacific; to the northeast, everything flows to Hudson Bay, and to the southeast, everything flows to the Gulf of Mexico. It's hard to find another place where a difference of a few inches can mean water flowing to destinations thousands of miles apart.

I say that the hike is "Triple Divide PASS" for a reason. The trail runs to the pass just east of the peak, along the ridge that means the difference between flowing to the Arctic Ocean -- and flowing to the Gulf of Mexico. The ridge then rises nearly 600 feet to the peak -- straight up. I had been dead-set in my goal of climbing to the very peak, the dividing point of drainage basins that covers the entire continent -- but I wasn't prepared to risk my life to do so. The ridge was a near-vertical wall of crumbling sandstone blocks, with equally imposing cliffs branching off to the north and south to discourage any traverse to an easier ridge ascent.

So I'll have to put off my dream of standing on the crown of the continent for a little while, at least. But someday...

Glacier Park is also prime Grizzly Bear country. I'm an accomplished bear-fighter when it comes to black bears, but grizzlies are another thing altogether. Grizzlies are BIG, and they are MEAN. And I sure as hell don't want to spook one.

So as I hiked through dense forest and bushes, the sort of places bears love to hide in as they dig for their grubs and berries, I had to make noise to announce my presence to any potential bears. Now, I'm not the sort to hike around with bells on like some damned hiking clown, so I needed an alternate sound source. Like singing. When I hike alone through potential bear habitats, I sing out loud. Badly.

Problem is, there's a lot of bear habitat in Glacier, and I ran through my catalog of songs pretty quickly. It goes by extra-quick when I only know the chorus of most songs, and even then I'm singing "Do-doo-DOO" because I don't know the words. So on my third day of hiking, I was heading up to Triple Divide with no songs left and about five miles of prime bear country ahead of me. So what did I do?

I got nerdy.

Real nerdy.

I started doing math in my head. Out loud. Distance and velocity problems, trying to calculate my average hiking speed and estimated arrival times based on the time and distance to go. Now, five miles, even at my average rate of 3.6 miles per hour (I told you I got real nerdy), is going to take over an hour and a half. That's a lot of math. I was doing long division. With decimals.

And nothing scares bears away like long division.

Even still, it gets pretty boring after a while calculating out hiking velocities. So maybe I'll get myself some damn bells after all. I suppose it beats having my spleen ripped out by a grizzly.


keepin it real


Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Should Have Brought My Skis

Ok, now we're getting somewhere. I'm rested, breakfasted, and over-coffeed. Time for some journal writin'.

I'm in Yakima, Washington, which apparently has a lot of wineries. Good thing. For a moment there, I was afraid that I might go the entire day sober. It is hot as balls out here in central Washington, and I'm going to need a way to cope. I also may have a mild sunburn. You know what doesn't give you sunburns? Drinking wine.

Think about it.

What does give you sunburns, however, is spending the day hiking around the snowfields of Mount Rainier. I pulled up to Paradise (elevation: 5400') yesterday morning, saw the towering mass of the mountain above me, and thought: let's do this.

Problem is, the summit of Rainier is over 14,000 feet above sea level, and is surrounded by pointy rocks and glaciers and crevasses and avalanches and very little oxygen. It's not the sort of thing to take on alone, without mountaineering equipment, after a late morning start. So I toned down my plans for the day, and just went halfway up to Muir Camp, a collection of squat stone shelters and overloaded outhouses that serves as a base camp for summit ascents. I was told it would take four to five hours to make it up to the 10,000-foot camp. I did it in three.

Did I mention that I'm a fast hiker? I am. I hike at a rapid pace. I'm proud of this. You should bring this up next time you see me. "Dave, I've noticed that you are a very fast hiker," you can say. "I get it. You walk fast. Now shut up about it."

I'll try. Getting back on track, I made it up to Muir Camp, where I could see the beauty of the Cascade Mountains spread across the horizon under a perfectly clear azure sky. It also smelled strongly of pee. Now, there's a lot of snow up on the slopes of Rainier. Hiking up (fast!) I could see a number of people with skis strapped to their packs, and immediately wished that I had brought my skis along with me. 4,500' down wide-open snowfields in perfect spring-skiing conditions? It would have been sweet. As it was, I had to make do glissading down on my boots. Glissading is fun as hell. Especially when I could get in a groove where someone had gone down on a sled earlier, creating a chute of slick, slushy snow that I could glide down, on the brink of lising control and falling on my face the entire time. It was perfect.

It also was very sunny. And I was in a massive snowfield. Above the treeline. So despite massive applications of sunblock, I picked up a bit of a sunburn. I'll take that trade.

It wasn't all fun and games, though -- I had to cope with loss. The loss of my pants.

In Memoriam
Dave's Pants - 2005-2008

I bought the pants back in (I'm pretty sure?) 2005, when I was visiting friends in NYC. We were walking through Greenwich Village, and came across one of those shops that sells highly fashionable clothes at insultingly high prices. It was going out of business. I found a pair of pants (Dunderon? something like that. They're made in Sweeden) that looked good and cost under 30 bucks. They were lightweight and allowed full movement, like running or hiking. Over the years, my pants lost various buttons and developed various holes, and my wallet pocket ripped. So I relegated them to hiking duty. They had a hole in the crotch, but it had only become mildly scandalous. Until yesterday.

I was sitting down at Muir Camp, and happened to glance down. And guess who poked his head out to say hello to the world? My penis. Now, I can deal with some pretty good-sized crotch holes, but when Little* Dave starts flopping out in the breeze, throwing off my aerodynamics, exposing himself to sunburn, prickly underbrush, and hungry birds -- well, it's time for new pants. You can look forward to an exciting upcoming post, "Dave buys new hiking pants."

*"Little" only in relation to the overall size of my body. I cannot stress this enough. I am Dave, he is Little Dave. He's damn big enough for when he's needed, and don't you dare say otherwise.

So yesterday, I did my big hike (halfway) up Rainier. The day before that, I did an equally big hike up Hurricane Hill in Olympic National Park. Don't let the name fool you -- It may just be a "hill," but it's 5,700' and it's right near the ocean, so the trail up it climbs just under a solid vertical mile. That's a lot of vertical. It was a beautiful hike, through lush, dense forests at the base to wide-open alpine meadows at the summit. Unfortunately, you can also get to the summit by driving most of the way up along a road on the other side of the hill, and then hiking a piddly little mile or so to the summit. So after six miles of solitary hiking, I ran into mobs of car-tourists up at the top. I turned right around and made my way a bit down the trail to get a bit of quiet for my lunch. I was taking a nice post-lunch nap in the sun, when I heard what I call

"The Most Inane Conversation Ever"

I can't remember it exactly, because my brain is trying its hardest to repress the memory. But it went something like this:

"Wow, look at all these wildflowers"
"Yes, there are a lot of wildflowers"
"There are a lot of flowers over here"
"Yes, and over here there is a different flower"
"That is a different flower. There are a lot of them"
"Yes, there are so many wildflowers"
"Really. There are more wildflowers than last time"
"Yes, there weren't as many flowers last time"

And so on. The actual conversation may not have been so intellectually stimulating. But it was longer. And it was LOUD. Seriously, it was like these people had built-in microphones. I swear I could hear them half a mile away, waxing idiotic about every single thing they saw.

The experience led me to develop Dave's Law of Conversation Volume, which is as follows: the volume of any given conversation is inversely proportional to the intellectual content of the conversation. Under this law, a couple of philosophers discussing the nature of a man in some bohemian coffeehouse will speak in reserved, hushed tones; and the flower-lovers disturbing my nap will speak at volumes rivaling jet engines. My theory is that the node of the brain responsible for moderating thoughts before they are spoken out loud is located directly above the mouth. People with a well-developed node will have a smaller mouth, and people with a tiny little node will have a massive mouth that has grown to fill the gap.

So after such a wonderful day, I was hunting for a campground. I found one, but it was full. At least, that's what the host told me. It was actually less than half full, but every empty site had a "reserved" tag on it. Bastards. So I had to do a little hobo-camping in a small gravel pit off the road in the national forest. It didn't have a toilet or a firepit or a water source or a picnic table, but it did have a space where I could put my tent and a flat spot for my stove. I cooked up some ramen and opened up a tin of tuna with secret hobo spices (cilantro-lime. Those hobos know their spices). This is what I get for planning my route only a few hours in advance and trying to find a campsite on a friday night. It is also the reason why I made damn sure to get a hotel room and a big freaking dinner at "Smokin Bones BBQ" last night. That was some damn good BBQ. And the chef/owner made a point of making the rounds of the restaurant, greeting each table and asking them how their meal was. I appreciate that kind of service. I also appreciate the "BBQ Combo," a mass of beef ribs, smoked kielbasa, and half a freaking chicken piled onto a plate and drowned in barbecue sauce.

Good times.

I also got to relax in the sulfur hot pools at Sol Duc hot springs several days ago in Olympic, and I got to see the Hoh rainforest. Both experiences were enjoyable. I'd write more, but it's time to get moving and check out of my room. More to come soon.

"I start with the best part of the chicken -- the neck! Then I add secret hobo spices"
-Moe Syslak

Bears in Cars BONUS!
See into the mind of the creator, with this exclusive late-night journal post outline!

It's getting late, I'm tired, and I've got about ten pounds of barbecue sloshing around in my stomach. I'm just getting a quick outline up so I don't forget what's been up for Dave. I'll fill in the details later.

In more-or-less reverse chronological order:

1. glissading is fun as shit. Especially on Mount Rainier. I wish I'd brought my skis.
2. In Memoriam: my old pants.
2a. Little* Dave pops out. *"Little" is only compared to my entire body. I cannot stress this enough.
3. Hobo Camping: the key is adding secret hobo spices.
4. Hurricane Hill: a mile of excitement. 10k vertical in 2 days.
5. Hot springs are hot.
6. The most inane conversation ever is also the loudest conversation ever. Fucking wildflowers.
6a. Dave's Law of Conversation Volume.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Oyster Capital of the World

I've been in in South Bend, Washington these last few days, visiting some family friends. South Bend advertises itself as the "Oyster Capital of the World," and for good reason -- more oysters are farmed in nearby Willapa Bay than any other place in the country. I got to learn this first hand, as I found myself hauling oyster bags out of the low-tide muck at 7am this morning. There were a lot of oysters.

I've been helping out here and there with the oyster farming, which helps me to not feel guilty about crashing in the guest room for a long weekend and eating all of my hosts' food. And drinking their beer. I'm doing that too.

The weather out here has been beautiful and sunny for the past few days, which is not normal. I know this because every single person who lives here has made a point to tell me, every single time I talk to them. "Normal" weather here is a combination of clouds, unending rain, and tsunamis. Apparently. Personally, I'm starting to suspect that the weather really is wonderful out here, and the locals just made up the "it rains all the time" myth to keep people away. I can't blame them; nobody wants to wind up like California.

Sunny weather is good for recreation. I've been taking full advantage of it. Saturday was my first attempt at wakeboarding, kneeling on a little rubber-plastic board as a fast boat pulls me along behind it. I decided that this would be a lot of fun, until I tried it myself and realized the physics of the sport:

1) You can't get on the board until the boat starts moving.

2) You can't get on the board without using your hands.

3) You need your hands to hold the rope attached to the boat.

All this resulted in a sort of rock-paper-scissors struggle as I attempted to manoeuvre my body onto the board. I would get a hold of the rope while laying down on the board, then attempt to pull myself up. This just slid me to the side of the board. I tried to hold the rope with one hand, while holding the board with my other hand. This made me go sideways. I tried to switch hands on the rope. This made the board spin around. Finally, with a sudden spastic motion (I still have no idea what I did), I was kneeling on the board. I was holding onto the rope. I was not upside-down. This was good. Unfortunately, my arms were tired as hell from the extended attempt, which made things difficult because I still had to hold onto the rope. I did manage some "tricks," however, ranging from (1) don't fall off the board to (2) look tired to (3) fall off the board while attempting a trick more advanced than (1) or (2). I'm pretty sure I managed to get some slalom turns in there, but my ride was pretty much all about trick (2).

So wakeboarding was fun. What was more fun was shooting stuff. I got my first taste of trap and skeet shooting with a 20 gauge shotgun, and I excelled at it. In that I hit the skeet once. After about thirty tries. So really, my only accomplishments were (1) litter skeets all over the place and (2) make a lot of noise. I'm pretty proud of (2). I was a little better at target practice with the .22, largely because the targets didn't move. It's slightly easier to hit a stationary skeet 25 feet away than one flying away from you at 50. But the gun is still just as loud, and the target explodes into little pieces when you hit it. I have decided that if it weren't for the whole having-to-fight-in-unjust-wars and getting-shot-and-killed-or-gruesomely-wounded things, I could have a lot of fun in the army. As illustrated in the following short play:

"Dave In The Army"
dramatis personae
Drill Sargent

Drill Sargent: "Hey Dave, would you like to shoot target practice with the grenade launcher?"
Dave: "Yes. Yes I would."
Grenades: "Boom."

And so on.

I've also gotten to help out with various chores here, including my all-time favorite, splitting firewood. If any of you out there have a bunch of wood that needs splitting, my services are always available. I will require as payment a large dinner (note: dinner must include some form of meat. Vegetarian alternatives will not be accepted. If I'm going to spend the day swinging a big heavy axe around, bean salad just isn't going to cut it) and plenty of cold beer. In fact, you can get a lot out of me in return for a steak dinner and lots of cold beer. This includes chores like "watching the football game" and "falling asleep on the couch." I am very good at those chores, too.

Coming up on DaveTrip '08:

Olympia National Park!
Mounts Ranier and Saint Helens, The Twin Towers of the Pacific Northwest volcanic world!
Not Seattle!


Friday, July 11, 2008

SLC Punk'd

Dave's back, babies!

I'm in Salt Lake City this morning, although I hadn't planned on it (this is, has been, and will always be the case when I am in SLC. The only times I find myself in this town are 1) to catch a connecting flight, because there was no other option for my air travel; 2) to drive up to the Wasatch and get some skiing in sweet sweet Utah Powder; or 3) because I've decided that you know what, I don't feel like having fun today. I don't have any particular axe to grind with Salt Lake City; it's just that this town was not designed with fun in mind.

To wit:

1) SLC is centrally located in the middle western United States. This makes it an excellent location for a Delta hub. Unfortunately, "centrally located" does not improve a town's fun rating. SLC relatively close mountains with incredible skiing, desert canyons with incredible vistas, and Las Vegas with incredible immorality. These are all fun. SLC is strategically located in the empty region between them.

2) SLC was founded by mormons. These people have historically been anti-fun, especially in the underwear department. They also rank very low on the fun scale when it comes to...

3) Beer. If there's one thing SLC hates, it's beer with a decent alcohol content. This means that the biggest side effect of drinking in SLC is having to pee a lot. I like to pee as much as the next guy, but there are better reasons to drink. For example, pointless vandalism.

4) The Great Salt Lake. SLC's big attraction is a chunk of water so salty that almost nothing can live in it. The salt content is so high that you can float in it easily. "Easy Floating" does not help SLC's fun rating. Especially if you can't drink a decent beer while you're floating.).

So why am I in Salt Lake City? A misfunctioning altimeter, that's why. Mr. Altimeter decided on the Boston tarmac that he wasn't going to work properly. So the pilot taxied the plane back to the gate to fix him. Apparently, rolling around at 1 mile an hour is the most fuel-intensive activity a jet can do, because after returning to the gate the plane needed to re-balance its fuel tanks for take-off due to all the fuel it had burned sitting on the tarmac. Apparently, moving fuel from one part of the fuel tanks to another part of the fuel tanks WITHIN THE SAME PLANE requires written approval from the control tower.

Now, the Boston-Logan control tower HATES when flights get delayed. They absolutely despise it. So when a plane does get delayed like ours, the control tower punishes them by taking as long as possible to approve their fuel re-balancing. The control tower is tough but fair.

The net effect on Dave was keeping me crammed in my tiny little plane seat for over two hours while this comedy of errors was taking place. Time being linear, it also meant that my flight didn't get into Salt Lake City until after 11pm (local time), long after the last plane had left for Salem for the night.

So I got stuck in SLC. I had not planned on it.

The nice people at Delta booked me on the next day's (i.e., today's) flight, and put me up in the airport radisson for the night. And they gave me $14 in food vouchers, which at airport/hotel food vendors is almost enough to buy half a sandwich. So that's nice of them.

What does this mean for you, good readers? It means that the road trip ("Vision Quest II: Electric Boogaloo") has been delayed by a little over half a day. Assuming no further altimeter hijinx today, I'll be back in the saddle this afternoon. You can look forward to exciting upcoming posts like "Dave gets the oil changed in his car" and "Dave finds out just how bad his car smells after baking in the sun for two weeks with a dirty sleeping bag inside." I might even regale you with tales of my July 4th break -- tales of lobsters, fireworks, sheep, fire trucks, and laundry. It's every bit as exciting as it sounds.