Friday, September 28, 2007

No more living out of our car

We checked out Savannah and Charleston, which were both cool (we liked Charleston a bit better) but we think we were jaded from spending so many nights in the woods, that being in city traffic and trying to park annoyed us so much that we didn’t stay very long. We continued up the coast and then cut over to JMU in Harrisonburg, VA where Sara and I went to school. We spent a day walking around campus, wishing we were students again, and peeking in classrooms at our same old boring computer science professors still talking to the whiteboard while no one paid attention behind them. We had a nice dinner in town and then hit a favorite local bar for cheap beer and the company of many JMU students who apparently had finished all of their Wednesday night homework. We awoke Thursday morning and reluctantly drove the short two hours back to our house. About 5 miles from our house we were greeted with stop and go traffic on 66, both ways, at noon on a Wednesday… welcome back to Northern Virginia. Amazingly enough there were no disasters awaiting us upon our return. The grass is dead and there are lots of spider webs everywhere, but otherwise the house is in good shape. Thanks to Kelly Tracy for watching our house this summer!

So you might ask, “how come they are home a bit early given that they don’t go back to work for another few weeks?” We just wanted some time to decompress, do laundry, clean the house, finish some house projects and get back into a normal life again. We are planning to do some mountain biking, go sailing, and enjoy having some time off around town. Sara and I are rested, refreshed and may actually be looking forward to going back to work on 10/15, but getting home early was not a reflection on the enjoyment of our trip. We had an awesome time on the road, and will probably continue posting for a few weeks since we consider ourselves still on the trip, just not living out of our car anymore (which looks quite different now that you can actually see the back seats again). On that subject, we believe the SUV was the correct decision and are glad we didn’t buy an RV of some type. We traveled much faster, more flexibly, and were able to get into some places that RV travelers could not. Camping in the tent for over 60 nights wasn’t bad either; we actually enjoyed it quite a bit. We attribute the tent comfort to the terrific weather out West (cool, low humidity every day) and the fact that our aero-bed fit quite nicely in the tent. If we had been traveling east of the Mississippi, camping in a tent would have been impossible. The heat and humidity would have been unbearable… our last few days in Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia were miserably hot.

Pics- Sara hugging the house, Chris braving the crawl space to turn the water on.

Somewhere in Kansas we discovered a book-on-tape of George Orwell’s 1984 within our massive MP3 library donated by Dylan, so we listened to that while the miles ticked away (“Big Brother is always watching”). In between chapters, we compiled the following list of metrics, measures and observations. Some of them might be interesting to you, some might not be… things like “# of bags of ice” might sound uninteresting but we got a lot of ice this summer and at some point we started to keep track… give us a break will ya, we didn’t have anything else to do sometimes.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Return to the East Coast

Well, we left the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday afternoon at about 1PM and decided to drive for a while. It is now Monday evening, 1900 miles further along and we are just about in Savannah, Georgia. There just wasn’t much we wanted to see in the Great Plains of Kansas and Missouri, or Illinois and Kentucky. We stopped in Nashville last night but resisted the urge to do touristy things in Music City and decided to head further East this morning. We stopped in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for lunch and continued Southeast this afternoon. It is nice to be back in the Eastern Time Zone and among the familiar types of trees and rolling hills of the Eastern Seaboard. We are not as pleased with the 95 degrees and high humidity that smacks us in the face each time we stop for gas (many, many times in the last 48 hours). We are going to spend the next couple of days visiting a few coastal towns. Above: the St. Louis Arch passes by at 80MPH. Below: our favorite "custom RV" of the trip… actually it was a ticket booth on wheels that a family was using as an RV… if you are interested, it was for sale… “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Rocky Mountain High"

We arrived Thursday evening and stayed in a campground just outside of the West entrance to the park so we could get showers and organized for our backcountry trip (National Parks rarely have showers and it is quite annoying). That night in our campground we were treated to the mating calls (technically referred to as a “buggle call”) of the bull elks. Apparently September is high-season for elk to pair up, so the males walk around day and night making this high-pitched shreaking very strange sound that sounds nothing like a buggle. They were loud and buggled all night in the forest, but we actually enjoyed it… some of the guys have great calls, some guys will definitely be lonely this fall. The next morning we were treated to our tent being frosted and frozen solid, welcome to Colorado in September!

After defrosting the tent, we headed out to the trail head, strapped on the backpacks and walked into the wilderness for a night. We hiked about 6.5 miles and up about 1800 feet along the East Inlet Trail to Lake Verna which is nestled in a valley at about 10,000 feet. The hike scenery was spectacular as it winded along a river up the canyon, but the climb was steep and we were quite tired by the time we got there. The altitude takes your breath away when you hike here, there just isn’t as much oxygen available at 10,000 feet. We made camp, hung our food between some trees to keep it from the bears (yes we are back in bear country), and enjoyed the afternoon. The Rockies in the fall are great, warm sunny days, the pine trees are fragrant, the aspens are turning and the evenings are brisk. We didn’t have any bear encounters, but a large moose or elk or elephant walked through our camp. We couldn’t tell what it was, but it was large and made these snorting sounds as it trumped along up the path. The next morning we were relieved to find that no animals had foiled our complicated food hanging system, so we had breakfast, packed up and headed out. We got showers at our campground from the night before and drove the main park road which takes you above the treeline and to the East side of the park. This road is the tallest road in North America, topping out at 12,100 feet. It provides sweeping views of the peaks and tree-less alpine tundra. It rivals the Glacier National Park “Going to the Sun” road, but we still give Glacier the edge. We are now headed back east to see a few things before heading home, goodbye “Wild West”, we enjoyed you for the past 2 months. Check out the pics:

Hello Colorado

After packing up and heading out of dry and dusty Utah, we entered Colorado. We made a quick stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A relatively new park (thanks Clinton) which protects a dark, deep granite canyon that only sees sun for a few hours a day. It is deeper than the Grand Canyon, but very narrow, probably only a few hundred feet across (versus 12 miles for the GC). The walls are almost at a perfect 90 degree angle… looking over the edge certainly makes your stomach drop.

After getting multiple recommendations for a small town nestled in the Rockies South of Vail, we marched forward to the town of Crested Butte, Colorado. Crested Butte seems to be a perfect little family oriented mountain town with a nice school, downtown area, skiing, mountain biking and breath-taking scenery. The home prices are also perfectly astronomical so we stayed in a National Forest campground outside of town with the other gypsies. We had planned to mountain bike in the area the next morning, but it got so cold that night that our riding shorts (which we had rinsed out the night before) were frozen when we woke up. Slipping on frozen biking shorts and riding on a 30 degree morning didn’t sound fun, so we decided to skip biking and drive up Kebler Pass to check out some foliage on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. The aspen trees here in Colorado are all orange and yellow indicating that fall is here and snow is just around the corner. The drive through Kebler pass was beautiful, massive groves of aspens draped the slopes for 25 miles of winding gravel road at about 8000 feet. We both agreed that while the aspens are beautiful when grouped in large numbers, Colorado can’t compete with the foliage of the East Coast, there just are not enough trees that turn their colors here. Check out the pics:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Moab, UT and Arches NP

We finally made it to Moab, UT on Monday… a virtual mecca for the mountain biker outdoorsy-types. While the town itself might not be too much to look at, the surrounding scenery and trail system is absolutely amazing. We found a campsite near town, and decided to use that as our home base both for mountain biking, and visiting Arches NP, just north of town.

This being one of the places those who LIVE to mountain bike come to ride, we decided to warm up our skills with an intermediate level ride on Tuesday morning. A few miles north of town we found a 12-mile out and back called Klondike Bluffs. A lot of the trails in this area are shared by bikers, ATV-ers and offroad motorcyclists, so there were definitely some interesting obstacles. The first half of the ride was largely uphill, and a good workout, traversing some rocky terrain, and a few miles of Moab’s famous “slickrock.” Contrary to what its name might draw to mind, the slickrock is actually super-grippy, allowing your tires to stick to it really well, so you can climb up and down hills you would otherwise not be able to ride in dirt or other trail types. (Check out the pics)

At the halfway point of the ride, we parked our bikes, and entered through a walk-in gate to Arches NP. We hiked a half mile or so, and were afforded some awesome views of the park down below while we ate our lunch. As we set out for the ride back, we met a couple on the trail and started talking to them; it turned out the woman was a nurse at the same hospital as Chris’s sister Jen in Traverse City, MI. Small world.

After our ride, we stopped at Arches NP on our way back to the campground, and did a quick driving tour, spending a few hours checking out some of the fantastic viewpoints, and hiking to some of the better-known sites in the park. We then headed back to the campground and got cleaned up, with the plan being that we would go back to arches, and hike to the famous “Delicate Arch” for sunset, then come back to town to grab a bite to eat for dinner.

We got to the parking area for Delicate Arch around 6:45, and sunset was slated for 7:21. In our books, plenty of time to make the 1.5 mile hike up to the arch in time for the sunset. Little did we know, however, that due to the location of the arch, the sun actually goes down into the mountains around… 6:50. So as we were hiking up, tons of people were coming down looking at us like we were crazy. We sped up our hike, all the while thinking we were idiots for messing this one up. When we got up there, however, although the sun had set, it was still casting a beautiful glow on the arch. There were about 80 people up there, frantically snapping pictures, and we sat there amazed for a good half hour or so.

The next morning we packed up camp, and set out to ride the Slick Rock trail before leaving town. Unlike yesterday’s ride where the slickrock was only a portion of the ride, it makes up the entirety of this entire 12.5 mile trail. Reading the multitude of warnings about how this trail is for experts only, don’t even bother attempting it if you don’t consider yourself one, etc., we decided we would try out the 2.2 mile practice loop (you know a trail is seriously difficult if it has a practice loop). While our first loop was a bit shaky, we made it around the practice loop a few times, and got the hang of riding on the rock, but deemed ourselves not yet ready to ride the full trail. We’ll have to come back and tackle it in a year or so once we have some more riding under our belts.

On to Colorado.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bryce Canyon NP

If it seems like we are spending all of our time in canyons lately, you are right. This part of the country has an amazing collection of canyons each with a different look, all formed by the millions of years of erosion driven by the constantly evolving topography of the Colorado Plateau.

Bryce has some very interesting sandstone pillars called “hoodoos”. All kinds of interesting geology behind why and how they where created, but we’ll save that for another day. In short, the canyon was beautiful and the park was very nice. We got up to watch the sunrise over the hoodoos on Monday morning and it cast and interesting light over the valley. It was a cold morning however, we were holding right about 32 degrees and realized that now that we have turned back northeast, Fall temperatures in the Rockies are in store for a while. Where did summer go? We are also starting to see some signs of fall foliage peeking out at the higher elevations. After leaving Bryce on Monday morning, we headed further across Southern Utah toward Colorado. This part of Utah in between the natural wonders of the many national parks wins the award for the entire trip as having the longest expense of nothingness and will now forever be regarded as “the middle of nowhere.” On the way to Moab, we stopped in Capital Reef National Park. Again, known for geologic reasons because of the “waterfold”, a.k.a. a crack in the Earth’s crust, that forms another canyon. This park served as a nice place for us to stop for lunch and in which we discovered that the Park Service maintains a 130 year old fruit orchard started by the first settlers here many years ago. Depending on the time of year, visitors are allowed to pick and eat any of the fruit in the orchards. Since it was apple season, we picked some apples (we think pink lady variety) and a few pears that were left. The park service is great at keeping nice parks, but not at growing good fruit.

Zion - Yikes...

We are a few days behind on the blog updates. On our last day at Zion (Sunday), we decided to get up early before we left the park and hike one of the overlook trails. Billed as “not for acrophobes,” we were intrigued by the description of the Angel’s Landing Trail and it seemed like a must do in the park. The 6 mile trail climbs from the Zion Valley floor about 2000 feet to a steep sandstone peak which provides 360 degree views of the canyon. The first few miles were quite steep but on a well maintained trail. The remaining mile or so out to the end was best described as… terrifying. Sara and I are not afraid of heights and love to scramble on rocks to get great views but this one is different. Imagine crawling, crouching and climbing up the saddle of a ridge where the trail is sometimes less than 3 feet wide with sheer 2000 foot cliffs to each side. The Park Service put chains into the rocks to assist you; without these chains the trail would be impossible to climb without ropes and a harness. Sara and I looked at each other several times and said, “are we really going to finish this one?” With our stomachs in our shoes, we managed our way to the top and were rewarded with some great views of the valley. We can’t believe that people don’t die on this one each year. We left Zion and headed to Bryce Canyon a bit further East in Utah along the Colorado Plateau.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday Night Football In The Tent

Sometimes even Sara and I are amazed at what technology can do these days. Thanks to our friends Matt and Larry, we are watching Monday night football live on our laptop, in our tent, in Utah. No, no cable or T.V. here… Here is the setup: Matt has a device called a Slingbox on his cable box in Arlington, VA. Using the broadband connection through my cell phone, we downloaded the player and setup the software. So Matt’s cable box is now sending us an image of what they are watching over the Internet down through my phone and we are now watching it on our laptop in the tent. We can even change the channels using the virtual remote control and watch something else during the commercials! Basically, we can see what they are watching on their TV through the Internet on our laptop.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Zion National Park

Zion National Park (Utah) is a cool park, although probably lesser known to East Coasters than parks like Yosemite, GC and Yellowstone but it seems to be a staple for West Coaster outdoors-y types. The park is full of rock climbers and hikers… there are less “snap one photo and leave” tourists here. This seems to be due to the fact that the entire canyon is only accessible by shuttle and there are no scenic overlooks. To see this park you have to get out and walk, hike or climb.

We got up early Saturday and did a hike into the Zion Canyon “Narrows.” A famous hike that offers superb views of the narrows Zion slot canyon from the bottom up and an ever present risk of a deadly flash flood. People die here each year from either not being prepared or walking into the canyon when storms are in the forecast in the Virgin River headwaters. The hike is about 8 miles roundtrip up into the canyon with about 70% requiring that you actually hike in the river. The water levels can range from ankle level to deep enough that you have to swim to proceed. Luckily the water levels were fairly low, but we were up to our thighs in a couple of places which was a little uncomfortable considering the water is moving quickly and it is cold (64 degrees). The mostly sandstone canyon ranges anywhere from 100 feet to about 15 feet wide in some places. The sheer walls reach up over 1000 feet, which blocks out the sun and causes a dark and narrow passage through some sections. Since we got an early start, we were treated to relative solitude for most of our trip and were able to have a lot of the canyon to ourselves. Tomorrow we are headinig out to Bryce Canyon but are going to get in a nice long hike early in the morning which takes us along the ridge tops for some top-down canyon views.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Grand Canyon

Yep, it is still there. This was Sara’s third time visiting, my second and we still love it. Despite all the new things we have seen this summer, Grand Canyon remains near the top of our list. It is the perfect way to put things in perspective and realize how inconsequential we are on this giant rock. Humans have been around for about 100,000 years, it took the Colorado River 5 million years to carve the GC, the Earth is about 4.5 billion years old and the rock exposed at the bottom of the river is about 1.8 billion years old… the rock is so old that it was formed before the Earth’s atmosphere contained oxygen.

We spent Wednesday afternoon walking the Rim Trail, checking out some overlooks. We got some cocktails from the El Tovar Lodge and enjoyed the evening dangling our feet over the edge as the other tourists gasped. On Thursday morning we got up super early to avoid the danger of hiking in mid-day and hiked down into the Canyon via the South Kaibab trail. The South Kaibab offers supreme South Rim scenery and the chance to hike about halfway down into the canyon. The trail is about 6 miles roundtrip with 2500’ of elevation change which is not too bad normally, but the rising sun and the heat on the canyon floor made it quite strenuous. We managed to get far enough down to see the river from an intermediate ledge just past Skelton Point (named so because of the many mules who have met their demise by falling off the switch backs in the trail). We spent the remainder of the day relaxing around camp. Thursday evening was concluded with a ride out to Hopi point for a spectacular Grand Canyon sunset. Today (Friday) we are heading up to Zion National Park in Utah.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Phoenix, AZ - Hanging with the Pettengills

We continued our hiatus from the outdoorsy life and spent the past few days at my sister’s house in Phoenix, AZ with Tara, her husband Matt, and their 18-month old little girl Avery. We got in on Sunday afternoon, and enjoyed a great dinner, and played with Avery for a while, before she went off to bed. On Monday, Tara and Matt went to work while Chris and I were on baby duty for the day. Now most of you probably know this is a BIG DEAL for us… alone, taking care of a little baby… all day! But we made it through, fed her, played with her, put her to bed for her nap, and she was still alive when Tara came home at the end of the day. All in all, it was a success.

We continued our hiatus from the outdoorsy life and spent the past few days at my sister’s house in Phoenix, AZ with Tara, her husband Matt, and their 18-month old little girl Avery. We got in on Sunday afternoon, and enjoyed a great dinner, and played with Avery for a while, before she went off to bed. On Monday, Tara and Matt went to work while Chris and I were on baby duty for the day. Now most of you probably know this is a BIG DEAL for us… alone, taking care of a little baby… all day! But we made it through, fed her, played with her, put her to bed for her nap, and she was still alive when Tara came home at the end of the day. All in all, it was a success.

Tuesday Tara had off from work, and she and I went to the gym, my first “official” workout in about 2.5 months. It felt good to be back at the gym, and I didn’t feel too out of shape – maybe I’ll be able to do that half marathon in October after all (Chris slept in!). We spent the rest of the day hanging out, swimming in the pool, picking up some items we needed from REI, visiting with Tara’s friends down the street, and basically just having a great time relaxing with family.

This morning we packed everything back into the car, and are headed North to the Grand Canyon for the next few days. We were very sad to leave Tara & Matt’s house, and can’t wait to see them again in October!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Los Angeles, Dylan King Style

On Saturday, we experienced the nice weather and beach lifestyle in the back of Dylan’s convertible as we drove down to another friend’s house from JMU in Huntington Beach (45 minutes south). We hung out at his place, watched some people break-dance on the boardwalk (they were learning and terrible), kite-boarders and general freaks of the beach for a while. We hit a good local watering hole for some college football and brews and burgers and finished out the night just catching up. We had a great time in LA with everyone, the beach lifestyle is awesome, the L.A. traffic surrounding it is not.

On Sunday we made the long drive to Phoenix to see Matt, Tara (Sara’s sister) and Avery. We stopped along the way in Joshua Tree National Park for lunch since it was right off Route 10. Joshua is a beautiful and quiet desert park, but hot and dry with little color in the summer. Today (Monday), Sara and I are baby sitting Avery, doing laundry, reorganizing the car a bit and enjoying some air-conditioning while the thermostat climbs outside.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

LA Baby...

After Kings Canyon we drove down to Los Angeles and stayed in a hotel near Santa Clarita. On Thursday we spent the day at Six Flags Magic Mountain to get some more roller coaster riding in. Since it was after Labor Day and a day during the week, the park was empty… probably 300 people in the entire amusement park, so we just walked on the rides with no wait. Needless to say we rode too many coasters in a short amount of time and ended the quite day dazed with headaches. There are decent roller coasters there, with one that can best be described as incredibly violent and extreme, hence the name, ‘X’ (for eXtreme). On the ‘X; your feet dangle and the seats are mounted in the side of the track rollers so as you go over a hill, the entire car rotates on an axis. Imagine a really tall coaster that does very sharp flips and rolls, except the car itself is rotating so you can be backwards, upside down or in motion at any point. It was probably the best roller coast we have both been on so we rode it a few times and called it a day.

That evening we drove down through the valley and camped in Malibu at a nice state park. On Friday we got a leisurely start and headed down through Santa Monica and met up with our friend Dylan (JMUer who recently moved our here from Virginia). We cruised the coast, enjoyed the weather and then went to a random concert at the Hollywood Bowl, an outdoor venue similar to Wolftrap in Virginia. Two classic 70s/80s bands took a break from their walkers to strut their stuff… “The Spinners” for some Motown’esque flavor, and then Daryl Hall and Johnny Oates. Going in to the concert we didn’t know who Hall & Oates were, but as it turns out we knew the words to just about every song with the exception of one, we just never knew who sang them. The crowd was a lot older than us, but we took a cooler full of alcohol, sandwiches and had a great time enjoying some 70s grooving in the nice LA weather.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

King's Canyon & Sequoia National Parks

After Yosemite, we headed a few hours south to King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Parks (the two parks border each other). It just happened to be Labor Day Monday, and as we were driving into the park, the amount of cars & RVs exiting in the opposite direction was crazy! We figured the park would be pretty empty since it was after the end of the holiday weekend, but we had absolutely no idea just how empty. More on that later.

We entered King’s Canyon at the Grant Grove entrance, which is where a large number of Giant Sequoia trees still stand, including the General Grant. We stopped, walked the loop through the trees, which were really big. Unlike the redwood groves where you could walk up to the trees, the trees in this grove were all behind fences, probably largely due to the damage people have already done to them over the years. So unfortunately you couldn’t get too close to them, but they were still pretty impressive. One or two of them had fallen, and were hollowed out, and you could walk right through them, with a few feet to spare above your head. All in all, pretty cool.

After the trees, we made the hour-long drive through the park down to the Cedar Grove village, at the bottom of the canyon. The plan was to camp there for the night, then head out for a night in the backcountry the next morning. There were four campgrounds in the village, and we picked the one that was for tents only. Now, this campground had about 60 sites… we were one of three people camping there that night. And I don’t think anyone was in any of the other three either. It was odd. We picked a nice site, quiet, away from the other two people (which wasn’t hard) and got our packs, tent and everything else ready for our overnight in the backcountry the next day.

The next morning, we picked up a backcountry permit, and our requisite bear canister. Now the bear canister is a big cylinder, about 12 inches tall, and 8 inches wide, with three locking bolts on the top. You basically have to put all your food, and anything else that smells inside the canister, including any lotion, bug spray, toothpaste, etc. Then you have to fit this huge canister in your bag somewhere, and guard it with your life the entire time you’re out. When you sleep, store it 100 ft or more away from your tent so that if a bear does come to check it out, it’s far enough away from where you’re sleeping. No problem.

We packed up our bags, got everything situated, and set out 6.5 miles to our backcountry site for the night. The hike was beautiful, following a crystal clear river the entire time. Although the last few miles were ridiculous uphill, we made it to our campsite for the night, which was in a beautiful setting next to the river. We set up the tent, and had a great afternoon and night. We hung out by the river, made a fire, ate some “just-add-water” backpacker meals (not too bad, actually) and enjoyed the evening.

We woke up this morning, excited to see if our bear canister had been disturbed, but fortunately, it was right where we left it, so we guessed we didn’t have any visitors during the night. We made some breakfast (oatmeal and French press coffee… fancy), packed everything back up, and made the 6.5 mile hike back out to the car. We had a great time.

We left the park today, and are headed south toward Los Angeles. The plan is to go to Six Flags California tomorrow… we’ll see what happens.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Yosemite National Park

We arrived in Yosemite National Park on a holiday weekend with no place to stay… others would have perished, but since we live in our car we are used to this kind of thing and we found a place to stay in the northern, less visited area of the park. The campground road practically required 4-wheel drive, but was packed with only a few spots left. We got set up and did a nice afternoon hike up to Elizabeth lake, which was in a nice alpine meadow. Yosemite has perhaps the most strict bear regulations that we have seen so far. Not because they have man-eater grizzlies as in Glacier, but because the black bears here are smart, aggressive and hungry. We saw some pictures at the ranger station of a Geo Metro that had been peeled open like a can of sardines by a hungry bear last week. It put its claws between the door window frame and the car frame and pulled it down… all for some banana peels and deodorant. Yum. Because of these aggressive bears you have to take everything with any sort of smell out of the car and put it in the steel bear containers at each campsite. This task was a bit annoying since as you can imagine we have a lot of sunscreen, food, toiletries, all kinds of stuff for living on the road for 3 months. Other parks let you leave this stuff in a hard-sided car or the trunk, but not here. We were skeptical of the bear precautions, but sure enough we heard one rummaging through a nearby campsite at about four in the morning on Saturday night… It sounded as if it cracked a soda and ate a bag of chips then chewed on a plastic water bottle for 20 minutes, but I can’t be sure, someone scared it off before we could peek out the tent door.

On Sunday we did a ridiculous hike up to Glacier Peak. 3500 feet of elevation change in just under 4.5 miles… The 97 switch backs on the trail provided spectacular views of the Yosemite Valley and Half Dome (see pics), but it was quite a workout and the 4 miles back down via the same trail may have permanently damaged us. Steep downhill hiking sounds easy, but it is the worst… Sara and I would much rather go up hill any day.

On Monday we woke up with plans to hike another day in Yosemite, but on the drive over decided we had had enough Yosemite, and headed out toward King’s Canyon/Sequoia National Park. Yosemite has great views and interesting topography with the massive granite peaks and domes, but overall the park wasn’t our favorite. We’ll need to come back in the spring/early summer when there is more water flowing; the park was a bit dry and didn’t quite live up to the waterfall paradise immortalized by Ansel Adams in so many of his photos.

Addendum to Tahoe

We spent two days there and stayed at a campsite right on the Lake hence the nice lake pictures. Tahoe is great… it has it all. Boating, winter sports, summer sports… does anyone know someone who can get us jobs in Tahoe? Our campground was interesting not only because of the water view, but because of the apparent bear sighting during our first night. We thought we had cleared deep bear country but the Sierras are home to some of the smartest black bears who love campgrounds and know how stupid humans can be. We didn’t see one, but some guy told us it was snooping by some garbage cans at houses not to far off from where we were snoozing.

The Flume mountain biking trail mentioned in the prior post was great. A very steep initial climb, not sure of the elevation change but it was large. The climb was worth it since it leveled out and rode flat along the ridge with some great views of the Lake. The terrain was very sandy and when combined with tight trails and blind turns on cliffs, it made for some excitement. We were also dodging some rain lines coming off the lake, one of which showed us what cold rain at 8000 feet felt like. We turned around at the end of the Flume and rode it back to the start rather than taking the shuttle so it ended up about 20 miles or so. We left Tahoe on Saturday and headed through Nevada (the Eastern half of the lake is actually in Nevada) down the back side of the Sierra range and back into California toward Yosemite.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


A quick post since we don't have much bandwidth. We were in Tahoe for the last few days, a great place. We did an amazing mountain biking trail called the Flume Trail courtesy of a recommendation from Sara's cousin Greg (see Portland) which followed along the rim of the lake and gave us some great views. We are continuing south towardYosemite, we'll update with more info soon. See the pictures in the album, we were able to get those up.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wine Country, part deux and trois

Day 2 in Wine Country.

We started the morning with a nice breakfast at the B&B, met a couple from Texas and a couple from upstate New York, both nice to speak with. We took the 10:30 Ravenswood tour which takes you through the winemaking process from start to finish. We went out into the vineyard to taste the grapes on the vine (surprisingly very sweet), see the different varieties and see how they grow all the fruits. We saw the harvesting equipment and then went into the barrel room to sample a few wines that were about a year away from bottling. Sara and I agreed they needed the extra year, not very good quite yet. Then we hit the tasting room to taste the same wine, but with the extra year added on… it was vastly different and much better on all points. We tasted most of the Ravenswood wine they offer direct from the winery, some good ones, but on the whole most were just average, even the reserve line at about $35/bottle. Keep in mind that the Ravenswood we buy in the grocery store (vintners blend series) is so far down on their totem pole, they barely acknowledge it even exists. After Ravenswood we hit a few more wineries as we headed up Highway 12:

-Valley of the moon – cool place, weird staff, we didn’t really like many of them.
-Chateau St. Jean – Terrific wines and great historic buildings and grounds that provided a nice place to picnic
-Blackstone – not so good, nice staff
-Arrowwood – great wines, nice staff, a phenomenal cabernet sauvignon from 2002 which retails at $100/bottle!
-Castle (across from the street from the B&B, I like walking home)… Sara had gone off shopping at this point, and the lady could tell I wasn’t going to buy anything. I think she may also have been missing her soap opera that I could hear in the back room, so she put me through 10 wines in 4 minutes; it was like playing power hour.

The evening was topped off by the Sonoma Farmers Market that is set up in the square every Tuesday night. Live music, lots of stands with the usual fruits and veggies, flowers, and honey, and several nice hot food vendors. We took the chairs, a nice bottle of wine, got some food and sat in the town square, people watching until the sun went down. Sonoma has a great hometown American feel and this was on full display Tuesday night, as you could tell when the locals are able to enjoy their paradise-like town and stock up on goods before hiding from the tourists each weekend.

Day 3 – Napa

We headed over to Napa today to sample some wine from a different part of the area. Napa lives up to the hype. Although the traffic was bad, even for a Wednesday, the wines were just about all terrific. The tasting assistants at most wineries were extremely knowledgeable and very professional. We had to pay for just about all of them to taste (10 bucks for a 5 wine flight) and several we needed appointments, but we managed to weasel our way in without one. Overall a class-A place for wine and tasting experience.

Clos Du Val (not Clos du Bois) – we basically opened the place up at 10AM so the guy was waiting for us at the door. He showed us the trellising systems and then did a very thorough tasting on several great chardonnays and bordeaux style reds. Sara loved the Pinot Noir.

Stags Leap – the winery that beat the French in 1976 and put California wine on the world stage. Terrific, heaviest pours we saw in three days, practically an entire glass with each taste, yikes, it was 11am. Luckily we were sharing the tasting.

Sterling, owned by the Disney Family… nice view, fine wine, annoying staff.

Plumpjack – A recommendation from Tara & Matt. Terrific wine, great experience with no crowd hidden off the highway… two here that Sara and I declared the best for a particular varietal tasted thus far (Syrah and Merlot)

V. Sattui – an original wine maker to the region. A nice place for lunch with a deli, although it was over 100 degrees at lunch time today.

Robert Mondavi – the father of Napa, we didn’t taste any wine but the grounds were cool.

Cakebread – great wine with a tasting focused on food pairing… excellent.

We decided to do what most tourists here probably do when finished tasting their 60 dollar bottles of wine and discussing things like a citrus nose, jammy color and soft tannin finish… we spent the evening at the town laundromat, reorganized our car (home) and got pizza and beer. Ahhhh, wine country.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Wine Country, Day 1

After an evening of Italian food and drinks in North Beach, we left San Francisco and headed for the Sonoma Valley, a.k.a. “wine country”. Before getting to the first day in wine country, a few thoughts on SF… Apologies to those out there who are die hard SF fans, but we weren't in love with it. Admittedly, we are not very touristy people so we didn’t do Alcatraz, nor did we drive up the crooked street, so right there some would say we missed it all. Don’t get us wrong, we had a great time, the scenery was nice when the sun was out and the food was good, but otherwise we will likely not return. The nostalgia of the steep hills, street cars, white facades and golden gate views were drowned out by the knock-you-over crowdedness, impossible to park in, extremely over priced underbelly of the city.

Back to the first day in Sonoma… since it is only about an hour north of SF, we arrived in the morning and got an early start to wine tasting. Rather than try to organize this into continuous prose, we will go down the list on what we saw and thoughts on each. Our day consisted of driving all over the place and it went something like this:
-Sebastiani (the foundation of Sonoma): large, impersonal and curt with an average wine flight. I have had good wines from them before so we were surprised and disappointed at our experience here, the building was cool however.

-Buena Vista (oldest winery in Sonoma – 1857, Carneros Region): our running favorite, phenomenal wines compared to most thus far. Wine lady tasting with us was great (Rhonda), the building, grounds, history, information displays were top notch. We may actually join the wine club, Sara for the chardonnay and pinot noir for myself.

-Bartholomew Park – small winery, 3500 cases a year sold only from tasting room. Nice whites, mediocre reds. Tasting team was nice and attentive.

-Schug Winery – okay wine, nothing special.

-Viansa – large place, first stop in Sonoma. We were suspicious when we saw two tour busses out front. We were right, the tasting room was a mad house filled with foreign tourists and a lot of rapid snapping cameras, so we turned around and left, no thanks.

-Jacuzzi Olive Oil/Wine – they had wine, but we wanted a break so we tasted olive oil. We love olive oil and always try it when offered, but here in the valley you don’t taste it with bread, you shoot it out of a cup and swish it around like wine. The experience is strange drinking straight oil, but you can really tell the difference that way. Most of the lighter ones and fruit/herb flavored ones were great, some were way to strong and tasted like axel grease.

-Gloria Ferrer – This sparkling wine cave (champagne, but not called that in America) is owned by Freixnet, the infamous black plastic wrapped average priced bottle that we are no stranger to around New Years Eve. The sparking wine we tasted was good, but the setting and view from the balcony tasting area was worth the tasting fee.

After a long day of tasting we checked in to our B&B, the Thistle Dew Inn. A nice little place 1 block from Sonoma Square that Tara recommended from their trip a few years back. We hit the local market (based on a recommendation from Gary), got some take-out dinner items, a bottle of wine (Buena Vista Chardonnay) and had a nice picnic meal at our B&B to finish day one.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Monterey and San Francisco

After the Redwoods we continued our move South along Highway 101 and 1. We planned on stopping somewhere along the coast and then heading into San Francisco the next day, but we never really found a nice place to stop. Not because it wasn’t nice, it just was so foggy and cold that we just kept driving and driving. At some point we decided it was a good idea to drive to Monterey and go to the aquarium, I think we misread the scale on our map. Our leisurely drive down the coast turned into a 11 hour marathon drive from almost Oregon to Monterey… probably 400 miles. We found this odd park (Veterans Park) in Monterey which was almost downtown. It was right next to an Army base so they played Taps each night at 10PM to take the flag down and Revel the next morning at 7 to run the flag back up. All of the soldiers did calisthenics or jumping jacks or just liked screaming for a half hour after the flag was raised, we couldn’t be sure, but it was loud and it ensured our early start. On Friday we hit the Monterey Aquarium, very cool… see the pictures. In the afternoon we did the classic drive through Pebble Beach, through Carmel-by-the-sea and down to Big Sur. It was a great drive with wonderful scenery, but we were not sure how people make entire vacations out of driving the coast but apparently many European tourists try. We returned to Monterey, found an English pub on the dock, enjoyed some beers while the sun set and few sailboats raced around the harbor. The following morning we awoke to the Army guys running the flag up and doing jumping jacks then hit the road toward San Francisco. We drove through San Jose, Redwood City, and Mountain View which is affectionately known as “Silicon Valley.” This area was the great stage for the boom and bust of the tech bubble several years back and still boasts the headquarters of many large companies like Oracle, Google, and HP.

Being my 29th birthday (8/25) we stayed in a hotel to celebrate (ohh, a hotel, how fancy!) in the heart of the Italian section of San Francisco known as North Beach. Because of our rooftop box on the car, it took us 2 hours to find a garage to stash the car for a couple of days since we have a high clearance. After getting some info from Tara (Sara’s sister) we set out to explore San Francisco. We had a great lunch at Molinari Deli and walked down to the waterfront. Fisherman’s Whart is a tourist trap but we had to go, so we did. For a birthday dinner we got some great traditional sushi at a local place that didn’t look like much, but our Japanese hotel owner said it was the only place he goes. To further drive home the birthday, we did a bit of bar hopping, hitting the Rogue public house and Rose Pistola for some scotch, funky cocktails, and jazz. It was a great birthday and evening out.

Today we continued our tour of San Francisco by learning how to use the bus system and hitching a ride over to the park at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. By the time we got there, the sun had burned off the fog and we got some great pictures. The sun was out and the sailboats were heeled over in the bay, it was windy but beautiful. Tonight, some fine Italian, then tomorrow we head up to Sonoma and Napa.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Redwoods National Park

We finally crossed the border out of Oregon, and made our way into California, arriving at Redwoods National Park in the early afternoon. Having been to a number of National Parks by this point, you can pretty much know what to expect when you arrive, a self-contained park, all in one place, a bunch of roads leading in, and some ranger stations here and there to offer advice. Redwoods is totally different. It was basically created by combining a number of state parks and reserves that were in various places around the area to prevent the total destruction of the amazing redwood trees, since the logging industry had already cut 90% of them down.

We found a nice park and campground, however, that was nearby one of the larger groves and went out for a drive and hike among the giants. These trees are absolutely massive – and apparently aren’t even close to the size of some of the sequoias. Their bark usually grows up to 12 inches thick, and the size of the trunk of some of the larger ones is just ridiculous. Sadly, there aren’t too many of the huge ones left, but we definitely found a few that were very impressive. While not the most beautiful park we will have visited on this trip, the sheer size of the Redwoods is definitely memorable in its own right.

Check out the pictures.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Crater Lake National Park

We left Greg & Melanie’s house on a typically “Portland” type of morning – misty, foggy and cool. Despite the weather, we were determined to see some of the Oregon coast, so we headed west from the city toward Newport. Although it rained the entire way, for some reason we were convinced it would just stop once we closer to the shoreline. Not so much… We hit hwy 101 and passed through some nice little beach towns (or as nice as they can seem through rain & fog), and eventually made it to Newport. The weather didn’t seem as if it was going to let up, so after grabbing a quick lunch, we decided to abandon our coast tour, and drive back toward Hwy 5, so we could more quickly make our way toward Crater Lake, NP, our next destination.

We arrived at Crater Lake in what was almost a complete whiteout. The rain, fog, and elevation provided about 100ft of visibility, and we were just happy to make it through the winding roads and cliff-edged dropoffs of the road through the park to a campground for the night. Since it was still raining pretty hard, we made some quick sandwiches for dinner while sitting in the back tailgate of the car, and contemplated who would be the one to put the tent up in the rain. In the end, we decided to put our extensive planning to the test, and sleep in the car. Yes, folks… we slept in our car! Luckily the campsite had a bear box, so we were able to put our cooler, food boxes, etc. in there and free up some room in the back. Everything else went in the front seats, and we blew up the air mattress on top of our clothes boxes. After Chris engineered some rain-proof window covers which allowed some air in so we didn’t suffocate ourselves, we actually ended up having a very comfortable sleep.

We woke up the next morning to clearing skies, and much warmer temperatures and set out to finally see this lake we had heard so much about. We stopped at the ranger station to ask about some hikes and then headed out for the “rim drive” which encircles the lake. Crater lake is actually the caldera of a huge volcano that collapsed when Mt. Mazama erupted over 7000 years ago. It is the deepest lake in the US, and one of the deepest in the world. In addition to that, its water is the bluest blue you could ever imagine. It puts a clear blue sky to shame. We stopped at a few overlooks on the drive, then did a 1.5 mile hike down from the rim to the water’s edge. The water was, if possible, even more blue once you were close to it. We rested a bit, had a snack, gave dirty looks to a family feeding some chipmunks, and then made the 1.5 mile hike back up to the rim.

After a few more stops at lookout points, we had a late lunch, then set out for our big hike of the day, a 5-miler to the top of 8900 ft. Mt. Scott, the highest point in the park, which promised amazing aerial views of the lake. The fairly strenuous hike up the mountain definitely delivered. From the top of the mountain you could see the entire lake, and its contrast against its surroundings… just awesome. We got some great pictures, enjoyed the hike down, finished our drive, and headed back to camp. The day turned out to be beautiful, we saw some gorgeous scenery, had a great dinner, and a campfire – just perfect. Check out the pics.

Today we are driving south toward California and Redwood Nat’l Park where we’ll spend the next few days.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mackenzie River Ride / Portland

Saturday morning we all dragged ourselves out of the tents, put on some coffee, had breakfast and figured out a plan to get everyone up to the trail and leave a shuttle car at the end. The trail we rode was the Mackenzie River Trail, a classic Oregon ride that is frequently featured in mountain biking magazines. It has it all, some nice technical sections, waterfalls, crystal clear lakes and streams, old growth forests and a few ascents to get the blood pumping. Sara and I are beginner mountain bikers so we were not sure what to expect from this 20 mile ride but Melanie reassured us it was mostly downhill and we could always hop off the bike if it got too crazy. It started out pretty tame with some rolling twists through the forest and then it passed into a lava rock field. We had never rode through lava before, so it was an experience. The lava is super sharp, if you fall, it takes the skin off like a cheese grater. We made it through (slowly) unscathed, however Greg slashed his tire somewhere along the way. Since the tire was cut so severely it wasn’t just a matter of replacing the tube, the tire had to be patched. So we began to ask passer-bys on the trail for things to patch the tire with. In the end it was successfully patched with some gum, a Clifbar wrapper and duct tape. Amazingly, it held out for the entire ride. The remainder of the ride delivered as promised, it was amazingly beautiful. It did have a few sections that were probably at the edge or beyond our abilities for rock scrambling on the bikes, but we made it through okay. Sara and I had a few crashes, nothing serious, but Sara ended up with quite a few gouges on her legs that required some trail medical attention which involved some skin glue and wound cleaning by Greg. At the end of the trail (about 6 hours later) we had some great hamburgers and celebratory beers at the Belknap Hot Springs.

After the ride, we decided to pack up and head back to Portland on Saturday night to sleep in a bed rather than in the tent… quite a luxury for Sara and I. We got the full tour of Greg and Melanie’s house, which is awesome. Greg and Melanie were awesome hosts for the remainder of the weekend. We went out to breakfast in their neighborhood, hit up the local farmer’s market, saw the Nike campus where they work and downtown Portland. The camping Friday night, the ride on Saturday, and hanging out the Greg, Melanie and their friends will certainly be a highlight of our trip. Check out their blog for Greg and Melanie’s take on the ride/weekend:

Mt. Hood and Bend, Oregon

After Olympic NP, we headed down through Southern Washington into Oregon and drove along the Columbia River to Hood River. Hood River is a cool town/valley area with a lot of fruit farms, B&Bs and outdoor sporting opportunities. It also has a great view of Mt. Hood which is about 20 miles South. We camped on Wednesday night along the Columbia River in a state park that was decent, with the exception of the freight trains coming through every 30 minutes and the strong gusty winds that actually lifted our tent up in the middle of the night and almost carried us away. On Thursday we headed up to Mt. Hood, checked out the Timberline Lodge and Ski area which is so far up the mountain you drive above the tree line and get some great glacier views; it was cold, about 50 degrees and windy. After a gross, but delicious chili dog from the ski lodge, we headed back down the mountain and over to Bend Oregon. Bend is a cool little town that seems to be quite up and coming with the richie riches from California who summer there and winter in Palm Springs. We stopped and had some beers in the Deschutes Brewery which is one of the main microbrews found in the Northwest (Mirror Pond, etc.). On Thursday night we camped in another state park, did some grocery shopping and made a good meal. Since Bend is on the Eastern side of the Cascade range it gave us a flavor for the terrain in central Oregon which is dry and sunny almost all year long.

On Friday morning we got up early, headed out of Bend and back into the Cascade range to meet up with Sara’s second cousin Greg and his wife Melanie for some mountain biking. After grabbing a few spots at a campground along the Mackenzie River, we drove into Eugene and hit the local Trader Joes, Sara was excited. We spent the afternoon lounging around the campground and the beautiful Mackenzie River which has spectacular scenery and the clearest river water we have seen yet. That evening Greg, Melanie, and Greg’s friend Joe rolled in. After getting reacquainted (Sara had not seen Greg since she was probably 7 years old), we made a great dinner and sat around the campfire enjoying some fine Northwest microbrew until the wee hours.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dancing with the Elk

One noteworthy discovery in Olympic National Park is this sign.

Apparently, they are trying to inform the tourists how to dance with the elk. I didn’t think it was true, but then this elk followed me around and wanted to dance.

Olympic National Park - Pacific

After just barely making the ferry to Port Townsend, we drove across the Olympic Peninsula to Olympic National Park. We drove up to Hurricane Ridge which is a really cool overlook at alpine level above the tree line. You can see several glaciers and Mt. Olympus, the tallest mountain in the Olympic Range (western range in Washington). Olympic NP gets a lot of rain and snow so above the tree line therefore they can get between 450 – 760 inches of snow a year (on the decline of course because of global warming). After the ridge, we drove around the coast to the Western ocean shore of Washington, found a great campground near the beach and headed over to cook dinner. We made a great meal, had a really nice bottle of wine from Yakima and enjoyed our first Pacific sunset of the trip; it was a fantastic evening. The following morning we drove over to Hoh rain forest which is also in Olypmic NP. Since most of the Pacific storm moisture gets trapped there, it dumps a lot of rain (12 feet annually) on the Hoh Rain forest. Because of the high amount of rain and other perfect growing conditions, certain types of trees grow to record widths and heights here, sitka spruce is one type (see the pic of me with largest know sitka in the world). After Hoh, we drove down toward Ruby Beach along the Washington coast and then continued on to Hood River in Oregon.

This weekend we are spending time seeing Oregon and will be mountain biking with Sara’s relative (cousin several times removed?) in the Bend area of the Cascade Range.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

hanging off the back

We took the ferry from Keystone to Port Townsend and just barely made it on this one… literally the last car. A wave almost hit our car on the way over since it was so close to the back of the parking deck.

San Juan Islands

After an early start Sunday morning we drove to Anacortes, Washington and caught the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. The car ferries are essentially large multi-decked paved roads with an engine and snack bar attached. It was a blustery but partly sunny day and we were bundled up like it was March. If this is August we would hate to see February here. After about an hour ride we disembarked the ferry and headed to the campground which was a nice little place that was half fancy resort, half campground with a few lakes around it. We spent the afternoon biking the island which was a good workout since the island is quite hilly. We visited little coves and a nice marina in Roche Harbor to marvel at the million dollar boats docked there. San Juan Island is a strange place. In the middle there are a lot of hippies, alpacas, and some vegetable farms, and then on the coast there are million dollar “cabins” (as they referred to here). The “cabins” have some serious star power, Tom Cruise, Jeff Bezos of, and many other business moguls seem to enjoy houses in the San Juans in their portfolio. Tom’s old house needed a different paint combo however, with the red and white colors it looked like a Dairy Queen from a far.

On Monday morning we took a guided kayaking trip to see the orcas (killer whales) which San Juan is famous for. Apparently the salmon runs have been smaller this summer, so the orcas have been coming into the area less frequently, so we didn’t see any of the whales foraging in the sound, but we had a terrific time anyway. We started out with some basic instruction, some emergency techniques, and then were off for about 5 hours on the water. The water here is ice cold, about 50 degress, but quite clear with sea life everywhere. Our group was small, 5 total including our guide. The other couple was from Connecticut so we had an instant East coast bond. Our guide, Jeff (Jason?), was a biologist and very knowledgeable in all aspects of the birds, sea life, geology, etc. We saw all kinds of eagles, falcons, seals, sea urchins, stars, crabs and kelp beds. The weather was warm and sunny and the seas reasonably calm, basically a complete opposite of arrival day so we lucked out. After the trip, we found a nice rooftop deck with a harbor view, sat down and were approached by a college kid. He seemed to bill himself as the greeter in the bar. Turns out his fraternity brother was the bar tender so we got free drinks for a while as he went on about this and that… we enjoyed the evening, life was good.

This morning (Tuesday) we were up early to catch the 8AM ferry back to Anacortes and are catching another ferry across Puget Sound to Port Townsend. From there we are heading to Olympic National Park which is the Western mountain range that borders the Puget Sound area. It is a very clear day here today so Mt. Rainer and both the Cascade range and Olympic range are in full view from the water.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Yakima -> Seattle

On Thursday we made it to Yakima, Washington which is known for its contribution to wine production and the use of its name in the form of bike racks and rooftop boxes. Oddly enough there is plenty of wine, but few biking opportunities here. Yakima Corp: why did you take that namesake?

The weather on the Eastern side of the Cascade range is always great; sunny, warm and predictable unlike the Puget Sound area (Seattle). Sara and I found a great state campground in Yakima, setup for the night, and then headed out to some local wineries along the Rattlesnake Valley Wine Trail. We visited several wineries, talked with the locals and purchased a few bottles to ensure we receive our daily dose of anti-oxidants. Yakima has a relaxed wine touring atmosphere, probably because the wines are not as good as you would find in CA therefore making people less snooty and because there are still plenty of residences with yard cars spread in-between the wine estates. Since we were out of fire restriction territory we had a campfire, a nice dinner, a bottle of Washington red, and made s’mores. We are also now out of high-risk bear territory, which significantly reduces the amount of rules enforced at campgrounds for food left out, etc. It is weird to travel in bear country and keep everything in your car and now be here in which people spread everything out all over the place. We did have one wildlife encounter here however, a skunk. Sara and I were sitting at the fire, it was pretty dark and I noticed a skunk walking about 3 feet next to Sara’s chair. We quietly got up and jogged safely away out of fear from being sprayed. Apparently our tent was near his home in the marsh/stream and he rustled around for the most of the night, but there was never an odorous encounter.

On Friday we got up early and headed for Seattle. We stayed in Redmond near my old stomping grounds during the summer of 1999. We headed downtown, visiting Pike Place, the Space Needle and other usual Seattle tourist attractions. We came upon a block party in South Lake Union, enjoyed some free food, hit the beer garden for a few hours and enjoyed some live local music; it was a great afternoon with warm sun and breeze… Seattle summer weather at its best. We grabbed some cocktails and appetizers at some dive restaurant near the wharf which seemed to be packed with retired rock stars (lots of leopard print and Mick look-alikes) and hip late 30s who were too cool for anybody.

We are headed up to the San Juans this weekend for sea-kayaking with the orcas.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Since we seem to have broadband access all along Rt. 90 running through the middle of nowhere Washington State, we decided to catch up on randomness from the trip. Eastern Washington gets “middle of nowhere status” similar to South Dakota. We are passing through Grant County, the nations leading potato producing county. Did we mention that we didn’t see much in Idaho related to potatoes? Supposedly they are the spud state, but similar to how we believe dairy farms in Wisconsin are a fake, we believe potato farms in Idaho are a fake. Perhaps we don’t know what a potato plant looks like… Paul can you help us out?

Odd things from the road…

1. Children on leashes. What is going on here… we see this everywhere. If aliens came down and saw this it could cloud their views on our level of sophistication. America, teach your kids not to run out in the street. We saw a woman choke a kid back from the road yesterday similar to how you would choke a dog back from the edge of the curb.

2. Just an observation, not a final opinion here, but the few people who will engage in a conversation at a campground are the from East coast. We try to be friendly and smile and wave to others in an unimposing manner just to let them know we are not crazy people. Usually we don’t know where they are from and they don’t know where we are from since small talk occurs in the bathroom or at the water spigot, yet later on we will stroll about the campsite and find out that they are from the East coast (NY, NJ, PA). We thought East coast people were supposed to be jerks and West coaster were the nicer half of the population. We are not looking for conversations and are actually private people compared to most, but West coasters do not talk to us… perhaps we smell like the East coast? On a different topic, Canadians don’t make eye contact with us, it is the strangest thing.

3. Sara and I use our CamelBaks for hydration while riding on the trail or hiking. We often don’t use all the water so rather than pouring it out, we put the bladder behind the seat and run the hose to the front seat. We refer to this as “EXTREME DRIVING!”

4. When we come across a campground bathroom that has hand soap, this is exciting. Perhaps it is a pain to refill it, or people steal it… we are not sure. We have stayed in probably 20 campgrounds, 4 have had hand soap dispensers and all have been watered down significantly.

5. We sometimes spend a portion of our day strategizing where we will shower next and how much it will cost. There a tons of campgrounds out here not many have showers and if they do, they are pay-for-use.

6. It is acceptable to take a shower and put the same clothes back on as long as there are no large stains or obvious odors, small stains may be acceptable depending on severity and location. (new socks and undies each time though)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Glacier National Park

We headed up to Glacier National Park after stocking up on groceries in Whitefish. We got a great spot in a first-come-first-serve campground called Sprague Creek on Lake McDonald. Glacier is an amazing park with wild scenery. Glaciers that were upwards of 2000 feet thick carved out these deep mountain valleys. Sadly global warming has reduced most of the glaciers to something more like the size of a football field on each mountain. The park is famous for its large grizzly bear population, the chance for an encounter and even more famous for the occasional brutal mauling/fatal encounter, so we were on full bear alert for the entire visit.

We spent the first day getting situated in the park and did a strenuous uphill hike in the afternoon to Snyder Lake. A nice alpine lake centered in an alpine bowl and rock slides and deep forest around it. The second day we drove the “Going to the Sun’ road during the morning. This road was literally carved out of the side of the mountain in the 30’s and is nothing short of spectacular. That afternoon we drove over to Many Glacier and did a small hike to Red Rock Falls. Another great hike with terrific scenery through a glacial valley however the most notable event on this one was our brief encounter with a Grizzly on the trail. The original trail we were going to do was closed for dangerous bear activity so we selected this shorter one which was headed in the opposite direction. Well, about 5 minutes into the trail I happened to turn around and see a medium sized Grizzly munching flowers about 25 yards up slope from us. He didn’t see us at first, then stood on his hind legs to smell the air. He sniffed, looking away from us, then turned toward us and started running down the slope. The bear spray safety came off, and we assumed position for an encounter. The position consisted of Sara and I tripping over each other and saying oh’shit, repeatedly. The bear was down the slope in 2 seconds and then ran into the woods never to be seen again. Okay, not that exciting, but he was close, and when he started running down the hill towards our direction, he would have been on us no time. We were making plenty of noise but the wind was blowing about 20 knots that day so he probably didn’t smell us or hear us because of the strong breeze. We turned after making sure he wasn’t following us and continued on.

The third day was another spectacular hike that left from Logan’s pass (middle of Going to the Sun road), this trail was called the Highline trail. The trail followed the Continental Divide along the mountain tops and along what is called the “garden wall”. The garden wall is basically a very narrow trail running along the slopes with alpine meadows, and steep cliffs. The drop offs to the left of the trail were in thousands of feet, not hundreds… not for people who are a afraid of heights. The hike was long, about 11 miles over varying terrain. The first 6 miles was awesome and we stopped at a mountain top chalet for lunch, then finished with a steep 5 mile downhill that took a big toll on our bodies.

Glacier is a great park with great scenery but isn’t nearly as accessible, nor does it have the many activities as Yellowstone. For hikers and campers, Glacier is awesome. For families, I think they would get bored. Check out our picture album by clicking here.

Today we awoke early and headed out to Spokane where we will stay the night. Tomorrow we are either heading to Washington wine country or Yakima, or Seattle… not sure, we’ll discuss over happy hour.

Smokey-the-bear was asleep on the job...

The drive from Boise through northern Idaho and western Montana was uneventful until we neared the many wildfires burning in Montana. This was our first experience with forest fires and we were quite surprised just how much of an effect they can have on such a wide area. (picture is a fire in the distance) Driving near a wildfire is strange, obviously quite smoky all around you and the sky takes on a deep mustard/brown color. We drove through this for about 100 miles since most of the area north of Missoula all the way to Whitefish was smoked out… visibility was about 2 miles which obscured most of the Flathead range and the large lakes. We stayed in Whitefish in a state park, which was on a lake just north of town. The park was nice except for its proximity to the railroad tracks. The train came through every 30 minutes all night long and blew the horn about 300 feet from our campsite. Loud. Interestingly enough as the wind died down and the humidity went up a bit, the smoke cleared and we had a semi-clear night. The next morning we awoke to a large amount of ash on the tent which was fun to clean off. My aunt and her family lived in Whitefish several years ago and I believe at the time, it was a sleepy little town. I am quite confident they wouldn’t recognize it or Kalispell. Whitefish has a “dining guide” and million dollar ski chalets, Kalispell has a Target, Starbucks and every other standard convenience you would need.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


Sincere apologies to summeroff2007 readers (as if there are any), there just isn’t much internet or cell service around Glacier National Park. Some Montana humor for you:

Saturday, August 4, 2007


Upon arrival in Boise, we were quickly informed the name of the city is pronounced “Boy-see,” not “Boy-zee.” An important correction, but not the easiest word to use in normal conversation. Regardless, we found a pretty reasonable Hampton Inn downtown to stay in while we checked out the city for the night.

All the buildings in Boise looked brand new, probably largely due to the influx of money from the athletics teams at Boise State. Easily walkable, tons of people riding bikes around the downtown, and with block after block of unique shops & restaurants, we were big fans of Boise. We had dinner at a little Italian restaurant, and did a bit of bar hopping around the downtown. Everyone we talked to was super nice, and seemed to love it there. All in all, good times in Boise.

Today we have a 9-hour drive ahead of us to a small town outside of Glacier Nat’l Park called Whitefish, just north of Kalispell. We’re going to spend the night there tonight, and then head into the park early tomorrow morning to find a campground for the next few nights.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Ketchum & Sun Valley, Idaho

Finally a new state… Idaho. We left Wyoming on Thursday, and made the fairly long drive across Southern Idaho toward Ketchum/Sun Valley. This area was absolutely beautiful. Sun Valley (as you probably know) is a very fancy/ritzy ski resort town, similar to Jackson, with lots of stores, restaurants, coffee shops and traffic, but set in an alpine valley, with big green mountains all around. We found a campground a few miles outside of town in the Sawtooth National Forest, and just managed to get the tent set up before a pounding thunderstorm set in for the evening. With the pouring rain pelting our campsite (the tent is a champ at keeping things dry inside), we decided to head to town for dinner. We found a great little log cabin restaurant/brewery, had some dinner, and played a few games of pool. It was still a bit rainy, and early, when we were done, so we found a coffee shop with covered outdoor seating, and ordered some hot chocolate, while I had a 30 minute conversation with 3 9-year olds about whether or not Harry Potter dies at the end of the latest book.

After a nice, quiet sleep, we woke up to about 45 degrees the next morning. It was a bit cold packing up the still wet tent, but some after some oatmeal and coffee, we headed out for our day of mountain biking. Inside the Sawtooth Nat’l Forest is the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). This place is just awesome. In the winter, there are tons of cross country skiing trails, which in the summer turn into tons of mountain biking trails. There were so many people doing active things on this Friday morning, we wondered if anyone had a job. People riding road bikes everywhere, tons of mountain bikers, runners. We heard the trails in the Galena area, about 15 miles north of Ketchum were the best, so we picked one labeled “advanced” (for some reason we thought this wouldn’t be that bad) and set out. After about 30 minutes of steady climbing, at about 5000’ of elevation, our lungs were broken, and we came up on what could be described as nothing other than a peak assault. The trail seriously went straight uphill for over a mile. We could barely push our bikes up it, there is no way a human could ride up it. To make the trail even more adventurous, we came across a bear in the valley below us, about 50’ away. As soon as he saw/heard us, he ran off, but I’ve still had enough close encounters with the bears for now. Seeing no end to the uphill ascent, we took a shortcut off that trail, and hit a few others, which had some great roller coaster hills, more manageable climbs, and were an all around fun ride.

All the trails in the Galena area start and end at the Galena lodge, which has a little restaurant, a bike shop, and an outdoor deck perfect for lunch after a ride. We ate some sandwiches on the deck, then set off to find some $2 showers our campground host told us were “over in the hot spring run by the Baptists.” We found the showers, but let it be know to all that when you are taking a shower at a place known for its hot spring, the water coming out of the shower head is also going to come from that hot spring, and will therefore smell like rotten eggs. Not the most pleasant thing to shower in, but, we were clean.

Next stop, a short drive to Boise.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Idaho, more than just potatoes

Apparently they also have a great sense of humor – check out this sign, courtesy of some joker in Idaho Falls.

Today we left Wyoming and headed into Idaho. With all the time in Yellowstone, Tetons and our week at the beach, we had been in WY way too long and needed to move on. Ketchum, Sun Valley, Boise, Sawtooth Range are up next… then on to Montana and Glacier National Park.

Grand Tetons, post beach

The Grand Tetons are amazing. When you think of “Wild West” scenery, alpine valleys, sharp granite peaks and wildlife at each turn, The Tetons deliver. Every day you drive by the range it looks like a painting, it hardly seems real.

We were planning to do a few days in the backcountry on the Teton Crest Trail, a classic trail for any serious hiker, but after our travel troubles neither Sara or I was in the mode for that level of roughing it quite yet. We decided to do some day hiking and ease back into the lifestyle. We did the Jenny Lake Trail (a great alpine lake with crystal clear water and berry patches along the way) and the Cascade Canyon Trail (follows a nice stream back up into the canyons and alpine meadows). Cascade Canyon area offers what I would consider absolutely perfect scenery. Although this is prime bear country (we were under full bear lookout mode – see YellowStone posts), we didn’t see a single brown or black bear or even any tracks for that matter. We did see a large male moose right off the trail about 8 feet from us. He was munching some grass and enjoying the shade, they are quite large up close.

Camping was good in the park (Gros Ventre Campground), nice and cool sleeping weather. The only interesting part, and depending on your point of view this could be a positive or negative in the wilderness experience, was the large pack of wolves that found its way near the campground to howl at the moon each morning from 4:30 Р5:30. I am not sure how far away they were, but there had to have been about 15 or 20 of them, barking howling in these long solo performances. I found it relaxing, kind of like we had finally reached the wilderness, it was a good thing Sara was asleep... and yes, the moon was pretty full this week so the clich̩ seems to be valid.

Back to business, part deux

The travel saga continued on Monday night. After our canceled flight on Sunday, we picked up another flight to Jackson via Salt Lake City. We made it to Salt Lake fine, but then the connection to Jackson Hole was cancelled because of maintenance or no plane, or no crew, or no fuel, or who knows… take your pick. Delta has emerged from bankruptcy, but unfortunately they did it at the cost of customer service and now our future business, the entire flight roundtrip was a disaster starting with our flight home Jackson a week earlier. All the hotels with 30 miles of the airport were booked so we got some miniscule vouchers, no cab money and were on our own to find a place to stay. We stayed at the Hampton Inn about 30 miles from the airport, nice actually. We got on a flight to Jackson the morning and were back on track. Surprisingly, our car and its contents were still there. We spent Tuesday afternoon getting resituated, stocking up on food, cooking fuel, and finding a campground for the next few days in Teton National Park.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Back to business

After a week hiatus, we are hopefully heading back to life out of our car today. We spent a week at the beach in Fenwick Island, DE with my mom & dad, and my sister's family. We lucked out with beautiful weather, which allowed for plenty of time on the beach, miniature golfing, people-watching at the Ocean City boardwalk, grilling and watching sunsets on the back porch, bonfires on the beach, and eating crabs & ice cream (not at the same time). We had an awesome time.

We got back to our house Saturday afternoon, and had hoped to fly out to Jackson, via Atlanta, Sunday afternoon. As is the case of DC Summer afternoons, and our luck with flights so far this trip, thunderstorms kept us from our destination. After a five hour search for our bags by the fine folks at Delta (we went home, had dinner, a bottle of wine & came back for them), we finally got them back around 10:30 pm, and headed back for another night at the house.

The plan is to fly out of DCA again today at 5:30, through Salt Lake City this time, and into Jackson this evening. Catch is, there is a 20 minute timeframe in which we have to get off the plane in Salt Lake, and onto the next one headed to Jackson, so even if we make it, our bags likely will not, and thunderstorms are once again predcited for this afternoon in DC. Perhaps it will be one more night at the house!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

We are spending the week in Fenwick, not much to report other than good weather and good times and good crabs for dinner.