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An Autumn Wind

The End Of Summer, The Start of Autumn, Favorite Pictures of the Week

sunny 75 °F

An Autumn Wind
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Yesterday was… It’s hard to describe yesterday. I will try. It was hot, dusty and exceedingly bright. One had to squint to try to alleviate the discomfort. Squinting all day makes you tense and irritable. It was hard on the eyes. A listless pall of negativity surrounded the ship. I felt it. This was heavy and draining. It affected everyone. I saw many stifled yawns. I saw many frowns. I felt mildly annoyed all day.

Evening came on, without much improvement. I had stowed the flags, I was standing watch at the gangway enjoying the cool darkening of the skies. From somewhere unknown, an unexpected wind arrived. It hammered into us. I’ve felt the slap of the wind before, but it has been awhile since it has punched me. This was no love tap; this was a well balanced punch with a strong follow through. This wind blew for forty-five minutes without letting up. This was an impressive wall of nearly invisible energy.

I turned and faced into the melee. Cool, moist air engulfed my mouth, my nose and lungs. It whipped through my hair, tousling my beard. Then the wind began scouring our decks. Our garbage cans went sailing, empty gas cans tumbled across the lido. Three kayaks toppled from their racks onto the deck. Our mooring lines stretched taut under the strain, and our deck mats flipped upside down asunder.

The deck crew assumed headless chicken stances, and ran around the boat securing all loose ends in order of importance. It took awhile, but eventually we secured our decks. When I stepped inside, the ship seemed so calm and peaceful compared to the tumult raging outside. I went back out into the wind. It was awesome.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this gale cleaned that dying breath of the last day of summer right out of us. Amongst the crew, moods visibly improved (myself included). I felt more alive, much happier, and more buoyant.
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As quickly as it came, the wind dissipated and vanished. The waters were calmed down; the stars reappeared above. You would never believe that a straight-line wind had ripped though.

This morning, I awoke fresh. I could feel the difference from yesterday to today. The morning light seems brighter. The air is fresh. It’s chilly out, whereas yesterday it was sticky. The autumn has arrived. Our second mate noticed it last night during the gale saying, “Holy crap. Is that the end of summer?”

I started my day with the following passage:

“Foolish. Of course! To give up a steady job in order to gratify a few vague daydreams. To leave a life of comfort for one of constant danger, discomfort and insolvency. Surely that is the height of foolishness. I reasoned with myself. How in the first place could I ever find the money to do it? But I was young, argued that other restless self, and a lad of twenty-one can always find a way to realize his desire.

And the desire grew and grew until it rang in my ears like a trumpet call.”

Dennis Puleston ~ Blue Water Vagabond.

I came to the park equipped with coffee cup, muffin, yogurt, orange, phone, books and slack line. I chatted with my brother Karl, talking of many good things. Our conversation covered comfort, breakfast nooks, Limo, our brother Eric, paradigms, the wind, and autumn. We complimented each other on our prospective journeys and appreciation for all the good things in our lives, and ended on a good vibe.

I breathed that fresh cool air; I ate my breakfast in the shady company of trees. After many minutes, I set up my slack line and found my balance.

This is good. This is how I like to start my day.

I'll end this entry with my favorite pictures of the week. Enjoy!
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Posted by Rhombus 01:37 Archived in USA Tagged night rivers friends autumn moon photography washington wind Comments (0)

The Great Bicycle Fiasco

The Trials and Tribulations of a Bike Owner

sunny 78 °F

The Great Bicycle Fiasco began (not surprisingly) with a single thought. “I should get a bike.” Well, that thought blossomed, and I began to visualize the bike I was hoping to get. I like old bikes. Old bikes have more character than newer designs. I love big fenders, shaky wheels, big springy seats, and handlebars that haven’t any aero-dynamics. The best ten dollars I’ve ever spent in my life was on one such bike. It was a one speed, rusted black, Schwinn. It came with big chrome fenders, and narrow handlebars. It quaked and shook slightly when I rode it. I loved that bike. That bike had an epic demise. It involved a beautiful blonde, a sunny spring day, and a moment of bicycle self-destruction. That story will have to wait for another day.
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I found my new bike at a funky antique store in Clarkston, Washington, called The Hangar. Many antique stores are run as a collective- meaning several dealers have banded together to form a co-op that has rented out a space to sell their wares. When I walked into the shop, I asked the sunny woman at the register if she had any bikes. “Yes, just the one out front... Or, I do have an old one.” The way she said it, made it sound like I’d be crazy to be interested in the old bike. I said to her, “I’d like to see the old one, if you don‘t mind.” Since the customer is always right, she smiled and led me on a winding path through a maze of interesting old stuff.

It was love at first sight. I told my host, “Now, that’s a great bike.” She looked at me askance, but seemed mildly amused at the same time. I walked around it, admiring its lines. The bike is that sixties tannish beige color. It wasn’t pale yellow, yet it wasn’t tan, it was a mixture of both of them. It had two solid fenders, wide comfortable handlebars and a boxy triangular seat. It was just what I was looking for.

The tires were both flat, but this didn’t scare me. I’ve picked up some handy man skills over the years and figured a couple of inner tubes would be an easy fix. Beyond that, I’d raise the seat, polish the chrome, and give it a tune-up with tools I had onboard the ship.

I bought the bike for forty dollars. This might sound like a lot for an old cruiser, but I knew I could easily resell this bike at the end of my ship contract. Several of the women I worked with would buy it from me in a second. I pushed it out of the store, saddled up, and pedaled on down the highway. I know that this isn’t good for the bike rims, but I HAD to ride it. After two hundred yards, I stepped off and pushed it another half mile back to the ship.

Author’s Note: The following is a true series of unfortunate events. I offer you the sequence of anguish this bike has caused me over the past week and a half. As you read this, please keep in mind that all I really want in this world is to take this bike on a leisurely ride.

The First Week

On the first night that I “owned” my bike, I set to work seeing what I could improve. I oiled the moving parts, inflated the tires, and chemically scrubbed some rust off the rims. I found from my initial investigations, that one of my tires held air, while the other tire did not. This seemed an easy fix. I decided to run off to store the next day to get a couple of tubes. In my haste, I neglected to measure the size of my tires before I headed off to buy new tubes. Consequently, I bought the wrong size and style of tubes.

I figured this out when I tried to install them on the rim. I had to stretch it like a taut rubber band to get it on the rim. And when I tried to inflate the tire, it remained flat. Then I got the bright idea to patch the original tube. I filled it with air and held the tube to my ear to see if I could hear where it was leaking air. I found a tiny hole near the valve stem. I talked to our Boson who gave me some extremely powerful glue to use to patch the rubber. I went about cleaning, preparing, gluing (nearly getting high in the process) and sealing the hole. The instruction manual informed me that it took twenty-four hours to cure. I was happy with my efforts.

Twenty-four hours later, I happily grabbed my tire, tube and tools. I put the tube and my tire back on its rim and re-inflated it. I watched with excitement as it seemed to be holding air, but after ten minutes, the tire began to get softer and softer, my initial pleasure began to deflate and sag- just like the tire.

A day passed before I had a chance to work on it again. Since I’m working on a ship, I can’t just run to the local bike shop every time I need a new tube. I have to work, and I only have limited free time in which to run into town. However, I knew I’d be at The Dalles with plenty of free time on a Monday afternoon. I found a map to the bike shop online. When one p.m. rolled around, I bolted off the ship to get my tires. I kept a brisk pace as I walked east along Second Street, counting down the numbers on the buildings until I reached Salmon Cyclery. The shop was dark. The door locked. The shop was closed on Monday.

I walked glumly back to the ship. I checked online again and found that my next chance to go to a bike shop was in Hood River the next day. I checked with my supervisor to see if I could run to town for a half hour, and I was ready to go. I didn’t count on the fact that as soon as we dropped our guests off at the dock, we left.

In retrospect, I can’t quite believe my patience. I guess I was still doggedly holding to the idea that I would be riding my bike the next day. “Tomorrow never comes.”

Finally, six days after I purchased my bike, I was in Portland, Oregon. Portland is one of the most bike friendly cities in the United States and I figured if I couldn‘t find the right gear here, I couldn‘t find it anywhere. I speed walked up Salmon Avenue counting the blocks to get to Tenth Street. There I would find the Bike Gallery. This was the closest bike shop to the ship in downtown Portland.

It seemed like my stars were finally starting to align. The shop was open, and well stocked. Before I left, I had measured the tires, and had memorized their dimensions since my first mistake earlier in the week. I talked with a skinny guy at the register, and he helped me find two tires, with matching tubes. I made my purchase, and went back to the ship.

I tolerated the day of work. I was slowly baking away in the hot sun, impatiently waiting to get off my shift. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Finally, 7 pm rolled around and I ran up to my bike. I quickly dismantled the tires in the gloaming of late evening and brought them down to the crew lounge aka Thom’s Bike Shop to put on the new ones. The tire said 26 inches. The rim said 26 inches. They should work, right? Wrong. The tires lied. After many frustrating minutes of trying to stretch the tire over the rim, I finally gave up. They weren’t going on. Upon measuring the tires, I found they were only 25 inches. It was another crushing blow, and I was beginning to lose heart in this futile project. I told the chief engineer, “At this point, I’m hoping I’ll get to ride it by November.”

The next day brought me to Astoria, Oregon. I gathered the last of my optimism and put it to good use. I had the following things going for me: It was my day off, I had a ride into town and Astoria has a bike shop that was open on Friday. I had all day to work on my bike if it came down to that. I was hoping it wouldn’t.
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I had some time to kill before the bike shop opened. I put my time to good use by calling my brother. I sat on a park bench overlooking Astoria’s waterfront. It was a pleasant morning. The wind whisked charismatic leaves about the sidewalk. I couldn’t help but set up a few photos. The conversation was great. It reminded me of why I really like this guy.

Comedic Timing

I walked into the well-appointed bike shop in Astoria shortly after it opened. The owner wore a working man’s apron, spectacles and smile. I asked him if he had any bike tires that would work on the rim I had brought in with me. He said he might, and asked me to follow him to his tires section. He searched through his tires, testing them against my rim. He measured my rim, and tried some more, mumbling to himself while he searched. Finally, he turned to me, and gave me the bad news, “Sorry, I don’t have any that will work. I can order them for you though, and you’ll get them next week.” I thought about it for awhile, checked my calendar, and did the math. I just couldn’t face another week of this. I thanked him for his time and stepped out into the street.

I sighed, and wondered what I did to deserve this kind of run around. I had one option left that I didn’t think of before. What if I put my new tubes in my old tires? The old tires were well worn and cracked. They had sections of dry rot where the supporting mesh poked through. I decided to give them a shot. If it worked, I’d be riding that day, if it didn’t, I‘d be no further along then I currently was on this project. I caught a cab back to Tongue Point where we moored our ship. I went dumpster diving into the trash to pull out the old tires that I had thrown away the night before. I grabbed my tools, rims and new tubes and set to work.

The installation went well. By this time, I had become very proficient at changing bike tires. I had them reinstalled on the rims faster than you could recite Homer’s “Odyssey.” I crossed my fingers, and put air into the tubes. They inflated beautifully. Finally, after all that disappointment, I knew I could take my new bike out for a spin around the dock. I bounded back up to the Lido where my bike lay upside down. I bolted on the tires, and spun the wheels until they hummed. They rolled straight and true.

Down on the dock, I stepped into the pedals and took my baby on our first ride. It was awesome. I kept yelling at the occasional crewmember who walked by, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m Riding, I’m riding!” I was completely happy.

It passed its trial run. I grabbed my adventure bag, and set off down the dock at a comfortable speed. I didn’t know where I was going, but the unknown was calling my name. As I neared the first hill, I built up some speed to help me ascend the slope. Just as I started up the incline, I put all my weight into the downward stroke of the pedal, “POW!” My chain had snapped.

Now, I am blessed with a good sense of humor. At this point, all I could do was laugh. The irony, and comedic timing of this chain snapping was perfect. All of the pent up frustration I had with this bike drained away with my laughter. There was nothing to do about it. I braked to a stop, walked back a few feet to what was left of my chain, and wrapped it around my handlebars. I turned my bike around, and scootered it back to the boat. I hauled it up to its home and secured it to the rail. I put on my walking shoes, and stepped off the boat. I was going to walk to town.

For the rest of the day, I pampered myself, and enjoyed my day off. I went out for lunch at the Rogue Public House. I ate a delicious burger with a Dead Guy Ale. I stopped in at one of my favorite bookstores to peruse their racks. I found a book on writing style. Finally, I bought a new bike chain from the bike shop. I finished my spree by drinking a strawberry milkshake in the shade of a comfortable birch tree.

I caught the bus back to the ship. It was evening, and I decided to install my new bike chain. After tinkering a little on the new chain, I set it on my bike. I would test ride it the next day.

Moonlight Ride

It’s getting dark out. The breeze blows steadily with occasional warm currents from the heat of the day still curl around me. A day past full, the moon is rising steadily over our little harborage. It casts a pale light across the vacant park I’m enjoying. I had just finished a satisfying slack line session. It’s hard to slack line at night, but it was fun all the same. I’m sitting with my back to a fragrant pine tree. I have a cold beer in my left hand. I’m watching the moonlit harbor scene morph around me. Taking an idea from my brother, I talk awhile about where I am in this world. It was a good chat. And it seemed like a good thing to do.

My bike is leaned on its kickstand. I messed up again. I didn’t tighten my rear wheel enough when I installed the chain. I’m completely at ease with the situation. I think there were many lessons taught to me from the last week and a half, and I feel like I’ve learned them.

After I finish my beer, I grab my gear and walk my bike back to the boat. Instead of housing my bike, I decide to wrench on it a bit and get the wheel back in place. This time, I tighten down the nuts with as much force as I can muster on my vice grips. I put my tools away, and push my bike up the ramp to the gravel parking lot. I tentatively try a few slow circles. I gain more confidence with each pedal stroke. Soon, I am flying along the asphalt trail, a moonlit streak in the dark park. The smile upon my face is as large as the moon. I feel young and alive - my skin tingles with excitement. I feel as though I just learned to ride a bike again. Once again, I’ve caught the exhilaration of freedom, and relearned the lesson of balance.

Posted by Rhombus 02:08 Archived in USA Tagged bikes rivers oregon trails washington woe Comments (0)

In The Raw: Journaling From Alaska to Washington

A Look Into My Travel Journal, My Writing Process, and Photos

semi-overcast 75 °F

I decided for this week’s entry to offer you my journal entries in their rawest form. These entries are the starting point for what will eventually become another thrilling edition of this blog. In a given week, I’ll head out exploring and recap the days adventures in my trusty journal. I’ve been writing a journal since 1997, and have filled up twelve notebooks of a variety of size. The entries are usually a quick recap. I try to write about what really struck me throughout the day. When I have time to write, my journal more thought out and thorough. There are often diagrams, maps, sketches and doodles added to the mix. Using these scribblings for inspiration and facts, I let the writing process flow. Often, I will get inspiration at strange times, and I have to try to remember what it is I want to say for most of the day before I get a chance to write it down. Somehow, the system works, and I'm able to occasionally write something thoughtful and coherent.

I realize I haven't updated my blog in the last couple of weeks. My apologies. I’ve been very busy of late spending my free time getting reacquainted with my slack line, my camera, and my friends. I've been depriving myself of needed sleep in order to enjoy my life, and something had to give. However, I think this small sabbatical has been good for me, but perhaps, not my blog.

The following are journal entries ranging from the inside passage of British Columbia to Clarkston, Washington on the Snake River.

9-10-12 BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
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I’m in B.C. these days. It’s our phase day (deckhands switch shifts once a week giving us 18 hours off in a row). I took advantage by going on a short hike into the thick forests. The moss is quite spongy, and comfortable to lay upon. We found a black banana slug, some shells and whatnot. I enjoyed it quite a bit. I wrote my blog. I ate some cheese and crackers. I also collected a few plants to add to my terrarium. Mostly moss, but another limpet shell pool and the like.
Peanut butter , Honey and Cinnamon sandwich for lunch. Tea with Miss Tiffany. Pretty Beautiful. Pretty nice.
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9-11-12 TO BREATHE
Lido. Sunshine. Coffee. Orca. Watts. Dolphins. Stretch. Then I sat in the shade and exercised my breath. Alternating Nostril, deep, shallow in and out, deprivation, inflation. So good. Then I let my voice flow in a chant and it was lovely. I had all of the air I wanted and my voice was very, very low and rich. Satisfaction.

9-16-12 A FOUR DAY RECAP: POSITIONING, AMELIA, SEATTLE, PORTLAND
Well. Here I am in Astoria again. To get here, I went to Seattle. We dropped off our photo nerds and I went to sleep. I awoke to Amelia in the dining room. We talked, catching up and sat in the sunshine. She brought me a giant burrito from our favorite food cart. We compared notes, we had a good time.
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Positioning was a dream. I love positioning (this is when we take the boat from one port to another without guests). I was working nights, as usual, and hung out with Lofall (my deck partner) in the night. Decent seas. I love a good roll.
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I forgot to mention as we rolled into Seattle, I watched bioluminescent bow riding dolphins. It was AMAZING! Pacific White Sided Dolphins slowly doing barrel rolls in the bright white biofeed. Beautiful. I love the ocean. It felt so good to be back on it, rolling, riding and moving in flow.

9-17-12 CASCADE LOCKS ZEN
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Such a lovely place. A shroud of pines protects me from the sun and wind. I’m in a pocket. Cozy, but breatheable. The carpet is tan of dead grass silky to the touch. Chickadees roll through. Time to forage. In the center of the grove is a picnic table which I’m quite attracted to. So I stop and take it in. This is my second spot to stop. No, my third. My first were a wind swept pitch of grass under an ancient oak tree. Good air forced into me. My second was a slack line session with a lead of forty feet. It was awesome to feel it all. Warm sun, strong wind, slick slack line, freeness of accumulated crap I collected all night. Gone. Smiling.
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I could use one more stop, a visit to a tree I know on the south end of the island. I think I’ll let that one stand as a fine memory of last year. I love seeing the cusp of a shadow. The upper branches of a broad leafed maple are green. Glowing. Beautiful. And here I am.
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“He who understands the Tao in the morning can die in peace in the evening.” ~ Confucious

When I’m this tired, I can stare at anything for long periods. When I’m this tired, my blinks take longer, sometimes several seconds.

9-19-12 PALOUSE RIVER STATE PARK, WASHINGTON
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Well, I’m here again. At the falls, though this time I chose a shaded grove of trees and grass to slack line in, rather than hike around to the falls. It’s nice. It’s quiet. The wind in the trees, soft, warm, and fragrant. Slacklining has been good. So far, I’ve managed to slack line everyday this week. Each time at a different place.
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Yesterday, was at Maryhill. A typical session involves a couple of beers, walking the line, friends, shade and trees. The smoky clouds mute the intensity of the sun. It’s still out, but obscured by wildfires.

9-23-12 SEPTEMBER FLYING
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Whoa. Time is hauling ass. Made it to Clarkston. Three days of smoky skies, friends, slack lining, a bit of work, and walking around.
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On the first day, I went slack lining when I finished work. I went to the doctor who told me I had strained my shoulder. Seems about right. It takes six weeks to heal, and I’m on the 4th week. Ah weel.

On the second day, I visited my old friends Eva, Ada, and Faith. We caught up and hung out at the pool. Eva and I went slack lining. What a fine lady. On our way back to our ships, Tiff calls and I rush off to an antique store and buy a bike. I asked the lady in charge if she had any bikes. “ Just the one out front… or we do have an old one.” I told her I wanted to see the old one. “Really? Ok.” It was an easy sell. It’s a seventies tan cruiser. It had two flat tires, but I can fix it. In fact, I’ve already put on a fixing session. I put on an inner tube, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seat, de-rusted the rims and so on.

It’s going to be a sweet ride.

Day three.
Smoky. Real smoky out. Mountains obscured. I went to the Nez Perce County Fair in Lewiston. It was hot, muggy and smoky. Every type of person you can imagine was there, a walking display of humanity, most of it kind of appalling.
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We went on rides and they were very fun. Part of the scare of these rides is wondering if the contraption they lock you in is going to hold together. Then the fun speed of flipping upside down and screaming. I was having a ball. We went on the Kamikaze, the Zipper, and the Tilt a Whirl. My body didn’t know what the hell was going on. I flipped it, spun it, rotated it, and shook it. It’s sleep deprived, sun baked, dehydrated and sweaty. The tilt a whirl was too much. I felt sick halfway through the ride.

Then we waited a long time for a ride back to the ship. Stupid Purser. I felt like a kid though, exhausted, sticky, tired, and a little sick. Don’t count fat people at a fair. It might depress you.
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Hot shower. Cold Beer. Comfortable bed. Ahh.

Now, you are back up to speed. Look for more adventures along the Columbia River until early November. My plan of riding the Zen flow has already proved very interesting. Instead of leaving this ship in Portland, Oregon, I’m now leaving it in Longbeach California. Big Smile!

Posted by Rhombus 16:59 Archived in USA Tagged islands rivers rainbows friends sunsets canada ships sunrises forests philosophy zen slacklining Comments (0)

Haines, Alaska

The Last Stop of My Springtime Alaskan Adventure

semi-overcast 64 °F


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Have you ever been to Haines, Alaska? Haines was never on my Alaskan places to see list. I had seen it on a map, but breezed over it for sexier locations like Denali, the Kenai, Glacier Bay, and Tracy Arm to name a few. Fortunately, I have friends in Haines. And these friends who have collectively said, “Come visit us. We have a place for you to stay.” While I was figuring out the end game for this Alaskan adventure, I decided to go and visit my friends, which is how I ended up in Haines.
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Haines isn’t an easy town to get to. There is only one highway into town, highway seven, that cuts south off the Alaskan Highway in the Yukon Territory. Alternatively, a ferry runs from either Skagway, or Juneau. I rode the ferry from Juneau, and recommend this option. Finally, you could take a small plane in from Juneau. Bank robbers aren’t making a fast get away from this outpost.
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Haines carries a small town atmosphere. It is a refreshing change from the tourist ridden, knick-knackeries of Juneau and Skagway. On my first walk through downtown, I was struck by the modest appearance of its shops and services. There’s no flash to Haines, and to me that is its greatest allure. When I stepped into the nicely appointed shops and restaurants, the shopkeepers looked up with a smile and a genuine, “Hello. How are you?” The owners of the establishments were generally hard at work in the kitchen, stocking shelves, or running the till. They were an active part of the service, not hiding in an office somewhere or teeing off at the ninth hole (though after work you might find them at the local disc golf course).

The Alaskan pioneer is still alive and well in Haines. Many folks are living off the grid. They live far enough out of town where they don’t have running water, or electricity they didn’t make themselves. Some have to plan their day around the tides-meaning they can only get to town at low tide. They live this way by choice, and continue the pioneering spirit that has made Alaska what it is. Granted, modern conveniences have made homesteading “easier” than in times past, but they are still over coming hardships that most of us wouldn’t even consider. Compared to the overweight, red-bull powered, television worshipping couch potatoes that we Americans are (prove me wrong!), these folks are our equivalent of modern pioneers. I applaud their spirit.

The days are long in the early part of June. Daylight lasted for just over eighteen hours on my visit. Summer is the busy season, when everyone wants to cram as much work and play into their day as they can. Summer is a big deal to the residents of Haines, especially after surviving last winter. This past winter broke many spirits all around Alaska. There were records broken, or nearly broken all around the state and year round residents of Haines had their hands full all winter long.
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“I stood on the top of this totem pole,” my good friend Kathy told me, “that’s how much snow there was.” This was coming from someone who as of March 2010 had never seen snow before. She survived this past winter, and lived to tell the tale. She’s seen more snow this past winter than most people have seen in the last ten. Girdwood, located just south of Anchorage, received eighty feet of snow this year. Eighty feet! That’s incredible.
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That’s why summer is so important to Alaskan residents. It gives them a chance to breathe a collective sigh of relief-no more snow shoveling for another five months or so.

Throughout my week, my friend Kathy introduced me to most of the town. “Hey Kathy, we saw you walking Frankie (her dog) and noticed you were walking with someone we didn’t know. We thought we’d see who it was.” I’d laugh, and Kathy would introduce me to someone new. In my line of recreation, I meet many people. The problem is, I’m terrible with names. So please forgive me if I remember your face, but can’t quite make the connection.
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As you might imagine, I spent a lot of time outside during my week in Haines. I love the lushness of summer in Alaska. Though the summer season may be short, every plant, wildflower, shrub and tree makes the most of it by blooming to its fullest. The pure green of the lowlands meshed beautifully with the pale blue sky and snow covered mountains. Add in some wildlife, such as a humpback whale in the canal, or Brown Bears munching grasses on the shore, and you have yourself another gorgeous Alaskan view.
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Highlights of Haines

Mt. Ripinsky
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Though I didn’t reach the summit of Mt. Ripinsky, I hiked to the top of its ridge three times. One of the trailheads was one hundred yards from my house. I went up for a hike with some friends on a summit bid. On top of the ridge, the heavy snow pack made the trail hard to find, and slowed us down. We bush whacked our way around the backside of the mountain eventually finding the main trail which took us back to where we began.
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On two other occasions, I went up to enjoy the eagle eye view of the town and surrounding mountains and valleys. I also found a mossy clearing where I set up my slack line.

Beach Barbeque at Mud Bay
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One day, the sun came out and my jaw dropped. Where once was a misty mountainous landscape obscured by clouds, there was now a brilliant mountain scene of blue sky and snow capped peaks. Then, the wind died down, and it became a perfect night for a barbeque. On the last day of shrimp season, a local fisherman gave Kathy a two-pound bag of Southeast Alaskan Coon Striped Shrimp that he had caught that day. We took them out to the head of Mud Bay, and after considerable effort, Kathy’s boyfriend started a fire using rain soaked wood. When the coals glowed orange, we pulled across a cast iron table over the flames and spread the shrimp on the grill. While they cooked, we watched the sunset, sipped PBR from a can (the Alaskan cheap beer of choice), and marveled at the beauty all around us. We pulled the shrimp off the flames with our fingers, yelping as we peeled off the hot shells. They were delicious! These freshly caught shrimp were some of the best shrimp I have eaten.
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The Chilkoot River
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The Chilkoot River is a beautiful river that runs from Chilkoot Lake a short distance to the ocean. Anglers of the skinny two-legged kind and the massive four-legged kind frequent the river. Somehow, they get along, but I think the four-legged anglers are in charge. The Chilkoot is a very picturesque river. Wildflowers grow abundantly along its bank, as do spruce, and other shrubs. A high mountain ridge forms the backdrop, and skinny waterfalls tumble down its side. I liked the rivers boulders. They had character. Some even provided homes to small Zen pines, which reminded me of Chinese gardens that I have visited (see Sleep Deprived in Portland, Oct 2011).

Rafting the Chilkat River
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Through the power of couch surfing (www.couch surfing.org), I made a connection with a local raft guide who invited me for a float trip down the Chilkat river. The Chilkat runs through a beautiful plain surrounded by lush forests and mountain peaks. It runs several miles through an eagle preserve, and we had several great views of these magnificent birds. At one point, we saw an eagle sitting on a log. Our guide asked us to be quiet. We slipped slowly past within twenty feet of this bird! It was awesome! I’m still get excited by eagles, no matter how many I see.
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I enjoyed the trip, and I was glad I reached out to the couch surfing network.

It’s safe to say, I enjoyed my visit to Haines. A week wasn’t long enough, but it was time to move on. I wanted to head south back down to the lower forty-eight for a while to take in some warmer temperatures, and work on my suntan. I’ll be back in Alaska in August, so I won’t be gone for long.

I took the evening ferry from Haines back down to Juneau arriving just after eleven o’clock at night. My flight was leaving at eight in the morning, and I didn’t have a place to stay for the night. I didn’t want to spend money on a hotel, not for that short of time, and the hostel closed its doors at eleven. I decided to see if I could spend the night at either the Juneau ferry terminal or airport. As it turns out, sleeping at the terminal is common, though their doors close from 11 pm to 3 am. As I set up my bunk on the concrete, I talked to some of the other folks who would be sleeping out, waiting for their ferry the next morning. I wished them happy travels, and tucked into my sleeping bag.
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Author’s Note:
Chilkoot means “basket of fish” in the Tlingit language.
Chilkat means “bigger basket of fish.”

Haines concluded my Alaskan adventure for now, and I’ve just returned from a five day backpacking trek on Isle Royale National Park. In two days, I’m heading to Colorado for three weeks in the mountains. As you can see, not only am I trying to catch up on my writing and photography, but I’m also trying to make plans for Colorado and points beyond at the same time. So this week I will be putting out two entries to catch up on my adventures. Thank you again for your continued support. It makes me smile to think of all the good people out there cheering me on, and inviting me into their lives.

Posted by Rhombus 11:03 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats rivers flowers hiking towns alaska oceans rafting photography Comments (1)

4000 Miles in 30 Days: A Love Affair and The End

On West Virginia, Climbing, Bluegrass, White Water Rafting, Cooper's Rock, and The End Game

semi-overcast 63 °F

I’ve fallen in love again. It was a brief affair, only three days, but it left me with that wonderful feeling of love. My symptoms are acute, and easy to diagnose. I feel the lighthearted tapping of butterfly wings in the hollow of my stomach, a rush of warmth to my head when I think of her. My heart is beating a little faster at the sound of her name, and I turn abruptly to the southeast convinced she is calling for me. These are but the whispers of my imagination, figments of my memories. However, the loving siren call of West Virginia is real and I am in love with her.
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Last Friday, my friend Luke and I drove down to the New River Gorge. We flew down the freeway, whistling through the warm morning sun, and rolling high into the green grandeur that is West Virginia’s Appalachia. We turned south on Highway 19, drove Luke’s Honda past Summerville, and began to recognize features from last years adventure (See From Alaska to West Virginia, May 2011). We crossed over the New River Gorge Bridge, the longest arched bridge in the western hemisphere, and turned off in the small town of Fayetteville.
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As we drove through the main street of its downtown, I took stock of what it had to offer. They had a solid outdoor gear store (Waterstone) , a yoga studio, a theatre with a full season of plays and performances, the usual public service buildings, a bakery, several funky shops (The Hobbit Hole), and many appealing restaurants including Pies and Pints, The Secret Sandwich Society, and The Vandalian, to name a few. I liked what I saw. It had small town charm, friendly people, great food, and soul. That was the deciding factor for me. Fayetteville has soul.
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We drove a mile out of town, and pulled into Cantrell’s Ultimate Rafting headquarters, and met up with our trip leader, and lodging staff to get settled in for the afternoon. The good folks at Cantrell’s welcomed us by name, gave a brief rundown on where to find everything, and let us know that a good bluegrass band was going to be playing at the bar that night. We thanked them, drove down to our little cabin to stow our gear, stretch, and eat a quick lunch. Our main objective for the afternoon was to rock climb down in the gorge.
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Springtime in West Virginia is akin to playing in the Garden of Eden. The forest was vibrantly green, glowing in the sunlight. Happy creeks tumbled down the steep sides of the gorge, often forming beautiful waterfalls of clear water. The birds chirped all around us, and large butterflies flapped in chaotic patterns, stopping to land in the blooming rhododendrons. It was warm in the sunlight, a perfect backdrop for any outdoor activity.
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The New River Gorge is a rock climber’s dream, and a Mecca to most climbers on the east coast. The rock is primarily sandstone, with lots of grip, and many routes. Most of the routes are set up to top rope, though there is quite a bit of trad (traditional route climbing) as well. There is plenty of bouldering, down in the Hawk’s nest boulders. In short, no matter what style of climbing you prefer, you can find good rock in the New River gorge.
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We set up our anchors on top of The Bridge Buttress, which is located underneath the north side of the New River Gorge Bridge. It had been awhile since I had climbed, and we took our time making sure our anchors were secure. When we were satisfied, we spent the rest of the afternoon climbing high up on the rock face. We didn’t have a care in the world, simply enjoying the feel of the rock on our hands and feet focusing on the climbing problems presented to us. I kept saying to Luke, “I can’t believe how amazing this place is.”

That evening as we drove back to Cantrell’s we demolished a bag of potato chips between us. We were starving after our exertions on the rock. We learned that another large group had showed up in our absence, and had their dates wrong. Instead of turning them back, they decided to move us to another campground and into another cabin. We really didn’t mind. We knew we would have a place to sleep. We drove a mile south on highway 19 to the campground. We found the caretaker who gave us a key to our cabin. The cabin was great, and step up in comfort. It was made of old rough hewn logs, with plaster chinking in between. It had a fireplace, a full bathroom, a small kitchen area, bunk beds, a queen size bed, and a spacious back porch. It was a palace.
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We cracked some beers and sat on the front porch enjoying the cool liquid in the dark of the evening. We were satisfied with our efforts of the day. The bluegrass band was going to be starting up soon, so we headed on back to Cantrell’s to see the show.

We walked into the saloon, ordered some beers and took a seat. The band was just starting up, the cigarette smoke hung low. The place was full of people, an easygoing group of West Virginians. We talked with some locals, hung out, commented on how lucky we were and how good life is. After awhile, and several brews later, we meandered over to where the band was playing. Johnson Crossing is from Asheville, North Carolina and tours around the country. I would describe their brand of music as a soulful bluegrass. It was a four-piece band, with a good lead singer and solid backup. It was a good show.

When I came out of the bathroom, I saw that Luke had wandered off onto the dance floor. “I can’t help it, bro. When I get that beat in me, I have to get out there.” I was feeling fantastic, so I stepped onto the square tile of the dance floor and began getting in my own groove. Just then, the dobro player picked up his banjo, and began to tune it. Everybody in the place knew he was about to go off, and it brought more people out to the dance floor. The band began to wind up, starting with the banjo player on a lead of “The Cuckoo.” The banjo rang true. The guitar, mandolin, and bass all followed suit. The rhythm of that song had the entire dance floor out of their minds. WE LOVED IT! We danced hard, we howled for more, we clapped in unison, we laughed, we smiled. The sweat poured off us, but the band played on. I gave out that southern tradition of a giant, “Yeeee-haawww.” That song was the best song I’ve ever heard live. It is a song that normally takes two minutes to play, but the band fed off our enthusiasm and played that sucker for what felt like fifteen minutes. It was an amazing moment. I remember looking at the lead singer and seeing his satisfaction at the power of his music. I cannot imagine how good that must feel.

The bouncer gave us a ride to our cabin for being such good sports. It began to rain, hard. I fell asleep under a hand made quilt listening to the rain hammer on our roof. My last thoughts were of how damn lucky I am. I thought back to my day full of climbing in paradise, potato chips for dinner, getting drunk and dancing all night. I almost forgot that we were here to go white water rafting.

Author’s Note: This section contains some mild cursing not suitable for younger folks. It’s harmless, and I included it because it reflects the speech and mannerisms of the region I was in.

The next morning, we awoke to my alarm, and the sound of rain lashing at the windows. One of our guides picked us up in a giant van. We learned the river was up about six and a half feet and rising. “The river is going to be in fine shape,” he told us. We ate breakfast, served military style from their cookhouse. We drank strong black coffee, and dug into the homemade biscuits and gravy, eggs, bacon and fruit. It was delicious. We signed our lives away, rented some wet suits, and geared up. We grabbed a life jacket, helmet, and paddle. We filed onto the old school bus, driven by an elderly gentleman who knew how to handle an old clutch on the steep, twisting, single lane roads of the gorge. The bus had that sour smell that buses carry around; a combination of old vinyl, moldy river funk, and the musky scent of lots of bodies in spongy wet suits. It wasn’t long before the windows became foggy, leaving us blind to the passing countryside.

We rode for forty minutes in that old bus, finally stopping at a place called Stone Cliff. Everyone piled out of the bus, and into the rain. The rain was still falling hard, intent to soak us before we ever made it to the river. I could see the river was rising higher on the bank, pooling around several trees that were normally dry. We met our guide, Randy, and our fellow raft mates. We each grabbed the strap of our sixteen-foot raft and hauled it on down to the river. We set it in the swollen river and jumped in.

We didn’t do much for the first three hours. Mostly, we chatted with our guide, who cracked us up with his Appalachian ways and stories of a river guide. The river was running so fast, that we put in upstream to where they normally would have, just to take up some time. It was a relaxed affair, and we passed harmlessly through some class I, II, and III rapids. This was my first taste of white water rafting, and I liked my first nibble. The rain continued to fall, and the river rose a little higher. I was freezing. I shivered in my wet suit, as we rode along. The water seeping deep into my long johns I wore underneath. Eventually we stopped for lunch, just before the halfway point of our ride. We ate sandwiches, chips, cookies, and drank water in the pouring rain. I tried to find shelter under a likeable tree, but instead of small drops, I had large bumblebee sized droplets hitting me off the leaves. It was hopeless.

We packed up, and got the rafts launched back on the river. From here on out, we were heading into the heart of the gorge, and with all the rainfall causing the river to rise, we were going to have one hell of a ride.

Now our guide Randy was awesome. He did not work us to death, and he told us what he wanted us to do when he wanted it. “Now, when I say, Forward Heavy, I want you to paddle with all you got. We need to get over to the left, other whys we are going to get beeyitch slapped and you don’t want that. If we get stuck on the right side, this river is gonna beeyitch slap us the whole length of these rapids.” His accent, mannerisms, and speech were deeply Appalachian. It was like having my brother Eric as our guide. He was hilarious, very charismatic, and I will never forget him.

We entered the first rapid, and it was a big one. Easily class V, and required some technical maneuvering to get through it safely. Just as we passed over the first big wave, and into the chaos, our raft went vertical, we heard the call of “FORWARD HEAVY!”, and we all began to row as hard as we could. It was hard to paddle, being bucked around like a cowboy on a rodeo bull. It was harder still to see anything but the river coming at me in all directions. “C’MON LAYDIEES! PULLL! PULLLLL! GIMMEE ALL YEW GOT!” Randy yelled at us, his thick accent easily heard over the roar of the water. We pulled like the ladies we were, and got over to the left side before we were bitch slapped into submission.

We whooped, we laughed, and we were thrilled by this wonderful river. Randy was ecstatic. “Great Job Guys! That was AWESOME! WHOOOOO-EEEEEE!” His enthusiastic approval was reward enough for us. We paddled on through several more big rapids, each of them requiring us to pull hard, but none of them were as tough as that first one. I had a blast, my smile widening every time our speed increased as we were sucked into the maelstrom of the chaotic rapids. No longer was I cold. I began to warm up with my adrenaline, paired perfectly with my excitement, as I pulled hard on my paddle.

All told, we had rafted fourteen miles of the New River, passing over at least twenty rapids. When we hauled out under the big bridge, we were soaked through, and very happy. It was a great day. We rode the bus back on up to the top of the gorge and back to Cantrell’s. We stepped out of our funky smelling wetsuits and handed back our gear. Luke and I rode back to our cabin to get showers, and get warm. After my shower, I laid down on my bed, to stretch out for a minute. That minute turned into two hours, and I passed out solidly for a long afternoon nap. I have had some great days in my life recently, and this one was one to remember.
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The next day, Luke and I checked out of our cabin, went out for a delicious homemade breakfast at The Vandalian, and decided to drive north up to Cooper’s Rock to do some more rock climbing. All of the rock in the gorge was still wet from all of the rain, and we figured to at the very least explore the area and find where to climb. It was a solid plan and it worked out beautifully. Not only did we find another gorgeous West Virginia forest to play in, but it was also dry. We spent the afternoon top roping on the giant sandstone slabs that make up the Cooper’s Rock climbing scene.
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I love climbing, and we had fun working problems on the route and exhausting our bodies. We took turns on the rock, one person climbing with the other person belaying them. We chatted amiably with some local climbers and compared notes on places we had climbed. We were the last climbers out on the rock, and we cleaned our gear from the rock as the sun was setting.
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I marveled at the trip. It had been awesome from start to finish. We drove west in the night stopping for a burrito in Morgantown before continuing on to Bellaire, Ohio where Luke lived. It was midnight when I finally pulled the blankets up to my chin on his couch. I reflected on my fortunes. I had just finished yet another amazing chapter of this journey.

The next day, I drove eight hundred fifty miles to northern Michigan. It took me over 15 hours to make the journey, after only 5 hours of sleep. I was exhausted and road weary when I parked my van outside of my brother’s house in Hancock, Michigan. I was in a hurry because the next day I had to catch a plane to Seattle to celebrate my birthday with my birthday twin. From Seattle, I am going north to Sitka, Alaska and then onto Denali National Park. Thom’s whirlwind tour keeps right on trucking along.

End Game: I drove 4,402 miles since leaving Spokane, Washington on April 9th. That makes a solid four weeks on the road, and let me tell you it was an amazing trip. Thanks for reading, thanks for all of the support, and thank you to all who let me stay on their couches, and hung out with me. The following are some of my favorite pictures of the trip which did not make the original posts. Happy Travels, Fair Winds, and I’ll see you in Alaska!
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Posted by Rhombus 09:06 Archived in USA Tagged rivers flowers river new dancing climbing rafting photography rockclimbing westvirginia roadtrips bluegrass Comments (7)

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