A Travellerspoint blog

May 2011

From Alaska to West Virginia: 5100 miles in 8 days

Decompressing, Santa Cruz, Nightmare Flights, West Virginia Weekend, New River Gorge Rendevous

sunny 65 °F

How does a sailor decompress after seven months aboard a ship? It’s a fair question. After all, it’s what I’ve known for a long time. I’ve been tied to the clock, to duty and workmates. I believe I’ve found a good solution to this problem, and it involves the following: Plan and execute a righteous first week filled with a two day decompression in California, and a solid weekend of rock climbing in West Virginia. I traveled over five thousand miles in eight days. This is how I relaxed, and unwound after seven months at sea.

First, find a stalwart friend of the highest order. Visit them.
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Spend the first day in the kitchen of a cool and comfortable quiet house, making cinnamon rolls, “fauxcassia bread”, and an award winning chicken dinner. During the downtimes, exchange music, and stare out at the green hills reminiscent of Ireland.

Go to sleep. Sleep deeply and peacefully, making sure to set no alarm.
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The next day, start it out right with a great cup of coffee, and the last of the cinnamon rolls. Drive west out of the grape vine covered hills, to the coast. Find a good downtown area, in my case Santa Cruz. Eat some slices of pizza from your favorite pizza place (Pizza my Heart). Go buy some new shoes. The shoes make the man, after all. Stop by the hip ice cream shop and get some smooth chocolate and coffee ice cream cones.

Buy some bottles for later and go chill out at a comfortable house awaiting more friends to arrive.

After a quiet afternoon listening to the rain tap on the roof, walk to a recommended burger joint and bring home dinner. Hang out and talk long into the night, go to sleep.
This was my decompression stage, and it was so very good for my body, and spirit. After decompression, it’s time to pick up the pace a little bit, by a little frenzied air travel.

I sprinted across the country by plane, pain, and automobile to get to West Virginia for three days of rock climbing at the New River Gorge Rendezvous. The sprint was entertaining to say the least. I flew into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at 11 pm, my bags didn’t. The airlines lost them along the way, including the one which had all of my adventure clothing and toiletries. I drove to my storage shed and spent an hour hunting through my boxes of stuff looking for my camping gear by the light of a dying flashlight. I finally slept for three hours, before waking up at five to fly out at 6 am. I flew to Chicago, then to Milwaukee. In Milwaukee I found out I missed my plane due to poor planning (I didn’t leave enough time to go in and out of security) (don‘t ask me why I had to exit security). All told, I spent about an hour in Milwaukee, enough time to admire their “recombobulation area.” Then I flew back to Chicago, then on to Pittsburgh, where I learned they lost my other bag along the way. Ha! All of this on three hours of sleep mind you. I kept half expecting to see “Del Griffith” show up along side of me. So, I spend two hours trying to find the second bag that the airlines lost in 24 hours. This one had all of my adventure gear in it. I met up with Luke, my climbing buddy, and we drove back to his dad’s house in a small, sleepy town in eastern Ohio to wait for my bag to arrive. I finally could relax, and I enjoyed the company of new friends, and the beautiful early summer evening of middle America. It was tranquil sitting outside in the evening sun, throwing a tennis ball to Jake, the golden retriever.

In the night, my bag arrived. Ahead of us lay a four hour drive through the rain to southern West Virginia’s New River Gorge. We had planned this trip a couple of months ahead of time, and we were both very excited to be on our way. Luke and I had never been to the gorge before, or to a rock climbing camp, and we were curious to see what we would find.

New River Gorge Rendezvous 2011
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We found the campground right across the road from the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest arch bridge in the world. The bridge stands 876 feet above the water, and is 3030 feet long. That height could hold five Statue of Liberties standing on one another. Once a year, on bridge day (October 15, 2011) they close down the bridge, and allow base jumpers and bungee jumpers to test their nerve by hopping off the side of this impressive span.
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The campground was a large grassy opening, and a large tent city had already taken root in the middle of it. I was happy to join the city, and set up my one-man expedition tent in the shade of a large tree. We started by getting oriented, and went off in search of some rock to climb. I was antsy to get on the rock, to burn out some bottled up energy I had stored after my long trip.

After talking with some climbers who gave us vague directions, we went in search of the Hawk’s Nest Boulders located somewhere near a dam north of the campground. Driving through the steep mountain roads of the Appalachian mountains was beautiful. There were lush green forests, with impressive rivers coursing through them. There were ample waterfalls, along the way, the air was full of butterflies and birds, and it was an ideal place to explore. I didn’t know West Virginia was so gorgeous, and I was impressed by its natural beauty. For many years, its unofficial slogan was “Almost Heaven.” After this past weekend, I’m starting to believe it.
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In the small town of Alstead, we couldn’t find the park. We were driving around looking for non-existent signs. Luke is good about asking locals for directions and we pulled up to an older gentleman who was happily sitting in a rocker on his porch. Luke yelled out, “Excuse me sir, can you tell us how to get to Hawk’s Nest State Park?” The first thing the guy did was spit a massive amount of chewing tobacco spew onto the ground, and then drawled out, “Well Hellllll son! Y’all er goin’ the wrong way! There ain’t nothin' up there but a dayd end! Yew gotta turn round and head back to the highway and make a right!”
We thanked him, and laughed all the way back to the highway. The people of West Virginia are good folks, and everyone we asked for directions helped us along our way.
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We found some rock, but not the boulders we were looking for. We climbed to get the juice flowing, and then went in search of the boulders again. We could see them, but the dam, the lake, a railroad, and a small fenced off power plant separated us from our quarry. We gave up, and enjoyed the hike, finding a swan that was evidently looking for some action, puffing itself up in full display of horniness. We found yet more waterfalls, and decided to go for a chilling swim in a rain-swollen stream before returning to the campground for the evening.

While we were away, they had set up a slack line. I hadn’t slack lined since last October, so I was excited to get back into it. Some very talented slackers took to the line. It was fun to watch and even better to try my balance once again.

That night, we made some friends with our neighbors, and I found out a local brewery was serving free craft beer. I filled up my Nalgene bottle and went and told Luke about it, who looked at me in disbelief. There’s nowhere else in the country that will they offer this kind of hospitality, and the climbers of West Virginia take care of their own.

For thirty dollars per person, we were given: a place to camp, a free breakfast (oatmeal, muesli, eggs, crepes, muffins, bagels, pancakes, fresh fruit and coffee, a burrito dinner, free drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, free gear demos from affiliated sponsors, free tee shirts, two concerts, gear, climbing competitions and clinics. I couldn’t believe it. What a great deal.
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The next two days we focused on climbing. Neither of us had much gear. I only had rock shoes, and Luke had a bit more with a harness and chalk bag. So we went bouldering. Bouldering is a style of climbing where you basically climb routes very low to the ground. This allows you to try harder moves without the fear of falling a long distance. It’s been one of my major pastimes for the last 8 years. By the end of the weekend, my muscles were strained and my fingers cut up and scraped.
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I found inspiration in the dyno comp (etition). To dyno is to find a hold and launch yourself off the rock and catch another hold higher up the rock. At the competition, there were guys who could fly. Points are awarded for the height of the grab. “Socks” Johnson was there, the national champion, and he won the competition by catching the highest grabs the most consistently.
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On Sunday, we stopped off for one last climbing session at the Hawks Nest Boulders. We finally were given good directions, and we wanted to find them after missing them on Friday. We burned out the last of our strength here, and doggedly made our way back to the car. My hands were so fatigued; I couldn’t even open a candy bar wrapper. I improvised and ripped it opened it with my teeth. You just can’t keep me away from my chocolate.
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It was a great weekend. We had spent three days hiking around the woods of West Virginia, taking in its entire scenic splendor, and there is plenty to see. It was like summer camp for us “fringe” folks who enjoy spending time outside. Everyone who was at the camp were of a good disposition. The camp was filled with climbers, and everyone was healthy, and strong. Everyone behaved, despite an unlimited amount of beer. We were here to climb, not to party, and everyone helped one another out. It was a great place to spend a weekend exploring, climbing, and chilling out with good people, my kind of people.
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On our way back north to Ohio, we stopped and asked for directions again, this time to a local swimming spot. We swam, and it felt good to immerse our tired bodies in cold water. I reflected on how nice the weekend was, and how good it is to be healthy, young and strong and in my element. I turned thirty a couple of weeks ago, and I have to say, life is great! Long live summer and West Virginia!

We stopped for pizza and subs in Washington, Pennsylvania. Luke told me there are a lot of Polacks and Italians in the area, so I ordered a hot sausage sub, and damn if it wasn’t one of the best I’ve ever eaten. It was a great way to finish a fantastic weekend. If you ever find yourself in Washington, head on over to Osso’s for some great food.
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Posted by Rhombus 19:01 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls hiking travel rocks friends oceans camping tents climbing forests bouldering westvirginia Comments (0)

Fjords, Glaciers and Elfin Cove

Tracy Arm, South Sawyer Glacier, and Elfin Cove: Population 12

semi-overcast 46 °F

This time of year in southeast Alaska, it gets light out at about four o’clock in the morning. I like to take advantage of the early morning light because nobody on board is awake. As a deckhand who works the night shift, I have ample time to watch the alluring scenery pass by. I’ve been known to pull out my camera while on duty, but that is a fringe benefit of this job. I like to get my early morning chores done as quickly as possible to allow for more quality time enthralled with these marvelous Fjords. I like fjords. The word fjord is fun to say, and the geological feature is a great place to explore.
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I was sitting on a deck box of the aft deck of our upper deck, sharing a blueberry muffin from Heritage Coffee with one of my deck partners and sipping good mint tea. Bakery tastes better when it is shared, especially with good comrades.
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I decided to count all of the waterfalls I could see around me, and I finally gave up after I reached nineteen. It’s not that there weren’t more of them, it’s just that deckhands lose interest in numbers after awhile, and really I just enjoyed being surrounded by falling water.
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The waterfalls ramble down the rock face of the cliffs of the fjord in long narrow ribbons often falling hundreds of feet into the water. The surrounding mountains have a lot of melting snow at this time of year, and with the continual rainfall of southeast Alaska, their flow is constant and healthy.

Tracy Arm Wildlife:

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Mountain Goats
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Arctic Tern
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Long Tailed Duck
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Black Bears

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Looking at the rock walls of the fjord, I was intrigued by the striated rock. There is little vegetation that has taken root here. This is because this is the newest rock to escape the icy grinding of the glacier. It’s fresh rock, so to speak, and it was cool to see the effects of a glacier close up, and so soon after it had released its grip on the rock.
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Tracy Arm is an inspiring piece of landscape. There is a beautiful view in every direction to inspire those susceptible to its charm. At its head are two glaciers, the Sawyer and the South Sawyer. I was fortunate enough to spend a beautiful morning watching ice calving off of the face of the glacier and listening to the white thunder.
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As an early birthday present, I witnessed a gigantic house sized hunk of dense glacier blue ice roll off of the face of the glacier and bob into the water. It was incredible. I was lucky to have my binoculars handy, and I had a really good look at this amazing phenomena. A large wave swelled up from the displaced water, and started rolling outward. It made our zodiacs bob up and down while it passed crashing against the far side of the bay.
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“White Thunder” is what the natives would call the sound of ice cracking off of a glacier. It is an apt description. It sounds just like the sound of a thunder clap after a lightening strike, and it’s really cool to hear one echo around in the fjord.

Elfin Cove Population 12.
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Elfin cove is a nice little cove on the west side of Chichagoff Island in Alaska’s Southeast. It’s a very small village, with 12 full time resilient residents, and several dogs. When we walked up the slippery boardwalk that makes up the main street of the village, the welcoming committee came out to welcome us to town.
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My friends could not resist, and gave it all the attention it wanted. Who can resist petting a friendly dog? We explored along through the misting rain until we found a good bench swing facing the bay. We sat down, and cuddled up close to keep warm against the cold wind and increasing rainfall. It was a very pleasant way to spend our time, swinging, talking and slowly getting soaked. I enjoyed the good company, that my fellow deckhands bring, and we capped off our day with hot chocolate when we returned to the boat.
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Should you find yourself in Elfin Cove, take advantage of the hospitality and good seating available at this nice little village.

This ends my first stint in Alaska. After seven months aboard the Sea Bird, they’ve finally decided to give me a break, and I have a month to spend chasing my muse before returning to Alaska in June. Look for me in California Wine Country, on the coast of California, rock climbing at the New River Gorge in West Virginia, and revisiting my old stomping grounds on the shore of Lake Superior.

The wanderer is seldom bored.

Happy Travels!

Posted by Rhombus 17:13 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats wildlife towns fjords ice alaska clouds glaciers bears harbors Comments (0)

One Week in Alaska: Why I love My Life

Twenty Four Southeast Alaskan Scenes of Grandeur

semi-overcast 49 °F

I’ve been re-inspired by Alaska. Close encounters with Orca whales will do that to a guy. Hell, just looking out at the wilderness landscapes of this state will re-inspire a guy. I’m glad to be back in Alaska. I’ve surprised myself this week by realizing how badly I’ve missed this untamed place. Here are 24 photos that are just a glimpse into the vast wildness that makes up this amazing state. I’ve seen all this in only a week. Imagine what a summer could hold…

TRACY ARM
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GREEN SCENES
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WHERE OCEAN MEETS LAND
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ORCAS
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GLACIER
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TREES
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YOUR HERO
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Alaska is everything you've ever dreamed of. Go.

Posted by Rhombus 10:29 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds boats islands ocean fjords whales alaska glaciers forests moss icebergs Comments (2)

A Sailor Hits Seattle

Sailing into Seattle, Spending Spree, Enjoying City Life after a 4 Month Abscense, Welcome to British Columbia

semi-overcast 45 °F

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We docked the boat at about seven in the evening on a huge pier just north of downtown Seattle. Our entrance to Seattle was a pleasant one. I was sipping tea, chatting with my friend Bill-who is from Seattle, and he was proudly telling me about his town. We leaned on the rail of the ship, sipping and watching the anchored cargo ships, and the downtown area come closer into view. I believe the rails of most ships are designed for deckhands to lean on. It’s a good, comfortable leaning spot, and no matter where you are in the world, you can see deckhands leaning on rails, watching the world go by.
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Almost the entire crew came out for the event, excited to be able to walk on solid ground again, after six days at sea. The captain did his thing, and we linesmen did ours. It was a smooth landing.

When the gangway was set in place, the crew eagerly bounded down it to walk on the cold concrete of the pier, some disappearing into the depths of the city some three miles distant. I was expecting to go to work, but the chief mate asked me if I had plans, and that I could begin my shift two hours later than I had figured.

With unexpected time on my hands, I found a couple of my friends who were going for a jog, and told them to wait for me. I threw on what I guessed were suitable jogging clothes, put on my dilapidated, unsupportive footwear I call sneakers and joined them. We happily and energetically ran around, hopping over concrete barriers and chatting amiably. It felt damn good to be free of the confines of our 152-foot world.

I watched this huge factory ship dock in the night. It's bow is taller than the top of our bridge deck.
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We ran downtown along a shoreline asphalt trail. The darkness of early night was closing in, but we didn’t care. When we reached the city, we walked up on of the seven hills on which Seattle was built. We continued downtown to Pikes Place Market for a cup of coffee before returning to the shift. It was a good run, and in good company. I’m not a runner, and I knew my feet were going to feel sore the next day after the pounding I gave them. I didn’t care. It was worth it.
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The next day, I awoke, threw on some clothes and walked back into downtown for a little adventure of my own. The day was full of signs of spring. There were large areas of fresh green grass with dandelions and daisies bobbing around in the breeze. The trees were budding, and little songbirds were perched high in them attempting to seduce one another with song. The skies were blue with occasional cloudy patches bringing in drizzle. It was warm enough for a tee shirt, then cold enough for a jacket, all in five minutes. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it was to see a colorful landscape after five months in a desert.
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I love walking in cities, exploring through the hustle and bustle that residents take for granted.

I like looking at the little vignettes of city life: A woman cuddles into her man as he kisses her on the cheek. A pigeon lands briefly on a baby carriage (is this the right term anymore?) the bird and baby eye each other peacefully before the bird flew off. A man walks by me eating a cinnamon roll, and refusing to make eye contact with me. That’s the way of the city, nobody will look at you. I looked at everybody. I saw two elderly sisters standing the same way, walking the same, looking at their goal across the street; that being Macy’s. A young man looking street smart and hip waits for a bus while listening to his Ipod.

I was enthralled with the simple joys of a city after six months at sea.

I went on a sailor’s spree. I’ve a bit of money saved up for my toil and labor this winter. I didn’t spend much money down in Mexico. My nest egg is now full enough to spend at will (I realize that I probably gave the financially wise populace a heart attack). I’m boat rich; Easy come, easy go.

With nobody to keep me in check, I purchased a cinnamon roll, and a good cup of coffee ($3), some toiletries I needed ($30), an Ipod (my first, and I STILL can’t download itunes which makes it basically worthless)($160), I went into the map store on 1st Avenue and immediately bought two books I’ve been wanting to read. “The Natural Navigator” by Tristan Gooley and “As Told At The Explorers Club”($30). This particular store is very charming and very dangerous. I didn’t stay long, as I knew my weakness for maps. I finished off my day by going down to Pike Place Chowder for a bowl of chowder ($7) and getting one for the road ($7). Pikes Place Chowder is a very good bowl of chowder. In my opinion, there’s only one place on the west coast that makes a better bowl. I was satisfied with my efforts for the day, and walked back to the ship in good spirits.

The next day we sailed north into Canada and British Columbia. The first sunset of Canada was a memorable one. It was one that a picture can’t really do justice to, though I tried. To be in that moment, in that scene, was to be immersed in grandeur. I love being surrounded by glowing clouds and seascapes. There were only four of us who witnessed it, even after we told everyone to come and take it in. The fools, their noses were glued like mine is right now to their computers.
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For those of us who watched the evening unfold, it was a symphony in the sky, and a well composed one at that. The clouds were its greatest feature, lit up in colors I hadn’t known existed by the setting sun. It was one to remember, and I’ll do my best to do so.
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I’m now in Alaska…
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Posted by Rhombus 15:37 Archived in USA Tagged sky boats parks cities seascapes clouds sunsets oceans seattle Comments (3)

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