Sunday, August 30, 2009

First 2009 Cascade Hike

A Nice "Unnamed" Alpine Lake

It was August 29th....and it was my first major hike of the summer. Let me repeat that: August 29th?!?! Is that pathetic or what? Summer of 2009 will always be remembered in infamy for the simple fact that the "summer" didn't really start until the end of August!

A crappy July? I can accept that, but an even worse August?! To look at my calendar is to look at a complex football play of X's & O's: I can work this "graveyard shift" up the middle as long as this "salsa practice" goes long & "time for sleep" sneaks its way along the sideline. That's just plain sad.

With that said, everything's not totally dire. Summer ends on 9/22. Being the eternal optimist, I can envision squeezing a summer into a paltry three weeks...well, maybe not a total summer. Enough of one to atleast make it not as embarrassing as its already turned out. This gives me three weeks to cram for a real summer. How can I make it happen?? More calendar calculating & time-management magic? It's do-able.

I had a free Friday: August 29th. No matter what was going to happen, I was going to get out of town. My destination: Chinook Pass & a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. This could only be a day hike, so I packed accordingly. Instead of lugging a 50-lb backpack, I had a much lighter cargo, namely water, lunch, bug spray, and a fleece top. I was packed and ready to hit the road in minutes early on Friday morning.

As usual, my resolve was tested. Something always try to act the monkey wrench. That morning it was plumbing. Like clockwork, the plumbing to the house I rent backed up into the basement: oh joy! I don't know how many times this has happened at times when I was just about to venture out the door. On this instance however, I had to say, "screw it". I had to go. The mountains beckoned.

The dogs were thrown into the back of the car, and we were on our way.

The drive to Chinook Pass was about 2.5 hours. I left the Tri-Cities at about 7:30. Made a quick stop at the Ranger Station in Naches, WA to pick up a Wilderness Pass and find out conditions up in the mountains. Like clockwork, I made it to the trailhead around 10am. This was a new hike. I have a tendency to repeat hikes. Repeat them monthly, annually, cerebrally. This time I was hiking a completely new hike. This was a trail I was entering blindly. I briefly looked at it via Google Earth months ago, but I didn't know what I was in store for. I didn't know where I was going. Surely there would be an awesome lake on the agenda. Fields of wildflowers must be on the menu. Huckleberries? Yeah, they will be sirening me. Gunner & Gomez? They just wanted a new place to go pee.

A Fork
We were on the trail, and I had a spring to my step. We wanted to get away from the parking area and WA-410. It's funny how trails can clear slates. Within a few switchbacks and the passing of a few batches of trees, we were gone.

Almost instantly, we stole our first view of a scene subconsciously hoped for all summer: a clear & sunny sky and a sky-blue alpine lake surrounded by craggly mountain ridges. This is the medicine I needed. I don't know the name of this lake, but it offered a nice "welcome back" to the mountains. I lead the dogs down to the water, and they, of course, sauntered into the water. I think they thought we had reached our destination. "Sorry guys, this is just the beginning!" I know they were calling me a "bastard" in their corgi brains.

We got back on the trail and continued south. We passed a few hikers just starting their multi-day trips down south and other hikers finishing their long trips north (why can't I be like these people!?). Overnight backcountry trips are nothing. I dream about what a 3-4 day trip would be like, or a 4-6 month trip along the entirety of the PCT---from Mexico to British Columbia. I couldn't even imagine what that would be like. Daydreaming is part of the drill when hiking.

Flowers Amongst Huckleberrie Bushes

Ha! It's funny about hiking. When you're out on your own, your mind has this uncanny ability to wander. It's always nice to think about your life. Think about those you are close to. Think about hikes in the future. Think about all that's happened since the last time you were in the mountains. It's amazing. My brain can hopscotch from topic to topic and before I know it, miles have been walked. Daydreaming is not a bad thing.

Ok, so I was at the top of a ridge, and I could see a huge lake below: Dewey Lake--the lunchtime destination.

On the way down, I had my first mosquito bite. I'm phobic about mosquitoes. I've been up to these mountains before and have had ounces of blood sucked out of me within minutes. Taking trips to the mountains always start with questions about the "mosquito situation". After this bite, I immediately sprayed some bug spray on. You know, the illegal kind---the stuff with DEET in it. I'm about as eco-friendly a person that you'll find, but if I can find something to repel mosquitoes away, I'm all for it. (It seemed to do the trick, because I would only have one bite the whole trip).

Finally made it down to the lake. This was a huge lake. It was beautiful, and it was big. We sauntered up to the water, and walked along the "beach" for a little. It would have been nice to hike a little more...but it was lunchtime.

Lunchtime (and yes that Widmer was ice cold)

After eating I then went about some of the business which was on my agenda: huckleberry-pickin'.

During the hike to the lake, I spied quite a few huckleberry bushes. They looked yummy, and it looked like I was going to have my fill for pickin'. Huckleberry bushes are generally pretty low. They are in areas where they can get sun and they usually are in bunches. They're a bit elusive, in that they sort of hide under their leaves. So, at quick glance, their dark purple yumminess is easy to miss. But if you are able to see one, there are sure to be more. My technique was to spot one, and then get on my knees and start looking for others. Much like looking up a skirt (or so I've heard), if you look at the bushes from below, you'll find that the huckleberries are there just waiting for you to find 'em.

Now I think this is where my indigenous genes kicked in. For the Siksika, our berries of choice are saskatoons and choke cherries. With these berries I know of tricks to quickly harvest the berries, but since I'm not Yakama, Colville, Nez Perce (or any northwest tribe), I don't know of any harvesting techniques other than picking by hand.

Ummm...Can I Get A Yum?

I have to say berry-picking was addicting. There were so many, and my eyes were scanning bushes like a mad man. I was able to get fairly adept at picking, but it was a bit overwhelming. I could have easily spent the whole day getting my fingers purple, and filling my bags with huckleberries.

As my hands and arms motored their way through the bushes, bees were busy humming alongside me doing their work in the wild flowers blooming for them. Instincts were propelling us both.

After picking one area, I'd tell myself to get a move on, but then I'd walk a few steps and then see another stand of even bigger huckleberries and would have to stop. I ended up spending about an hour looking and picking berries. When it was all done, I came away with about 11oz of berries in my little ziploc bag. I was going to have some yummy smoothies this week!

The dogs and I finally wade our way out of the Dewey Lake basin. I felt a little bad in that Gunner and Gomez were really starting to look bushed. It wasn't too hot, but their tongues were practically draggin' on the trail (several people we walked by commented on their sorry state). They were troopers though. Once we made it back up on the ridge, their spirits were lifted, and I kept telling 'em the water was close, and they could go swimming---I think they understood me because they started to scamper with resolve.

Dog Nose & Potato Chip In Alpine Scene

Before we knew it, we were back at that first little alpine lake. Gunner & Gomez knew where they were and bee-lined it down the trail and went right into the lake! Gomez is part fish because he basically just hung out in the water for the next 30min. I'd throw sticks for him and he'd paddle out to snag 'em and bring them back to me. He could have done this for the rest of the day. (it's amazing how skinny he looks when he's wet.)

I should have brought some swimming trunks. Swimming in this gin-clear water would have been so refreshing. I thought of skinny-dipping, but this lake is too close to the trailhead, so there were quite a few people around for an audience. At any rate, this little lake (not been able to find the name of it) served as a refreshing dessert for the day's hike.

Finally, A Swim

So, after waking up at 5am, quickly packing, getting out the door at 7:30, and getting to the trailhead at 10am, we ended up getting back to the car at 2pm. The hike to Dewey Lake is 2.5 miles. Then drove home and chilled before making it to salsa practice at 8pm (had an awesome practice and learned moves for our new choreography). After that I ended up transitioning to graveyard. Which meant staying up until 7am (that's being up for 26 hours, son!). So it was a full day. I think if I manage to have a few more of these jam-packed days, I might be able to salvage this summer!

The Total Trip

The Start From Trailhead

View From Dewey (That's Rainier In The Background)

My 11oz Huckleberry Harvest

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why We Yelp

"My Name is Corey Gray, and I'm a Yelpaholic."

E-logging (for work), blogging (for me), Yelping (for everyone)----man, there's so much to write about in this world!

I think ever since my 8th (Ms. Tavidian) & 9th (Ms. Silvus) grade English classes, I've always had a secret desire to one day become a devilishly wicked writer. I'm obviously not a published novel-writer, but I still aspire.

For years, I have had opportunities to write technical pieces related to work, our instruments, or how my shift went. For the most part, this scientific prose was written in websites we call e-logs (electronic log books). For my work at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory), there were two elogs where I re-honed literary skills: the e-log for the Hanford observatory and the Seismic e-log for the new Advanced LIGO Seismic Isolation hardware.

During LIGO's two-year Science Run #5, writing e-logs was like breathing. I took in technical issues and exhaled shift summaries. My writing fix was appeased. After S5, there was a void. I still wrote technical stuff, but not as much. There was a hole. This is where blogging came in, but probably even more---this is where Yelping came in.

The Beginning
Basically I happened upon by utter randomness. I was working at MIT in Cambridge for the summer, and I wanted to find cool places to eat. With google, I happened upon some Boston restaurant reviews, and even a laundry service near my hotel. I used the site to help navigate my way around to places I would have never found on my own (my personal favorite from that trip: Muqueca--a corner Brazilian restaurant in Inman Square. It's one of those places I still daydream about). Later that year, I started my own account and was on my way writing my own reviews.

I liked being able to keep track of places I've been to. I guess I was sort of in "e-log" mode. Instead of writing about earthquakes in New Zealand shaking our instrument around, I was writing about other-worldly cocktails or curries with magical flavorings. Oh, and it's not just food. One of Yelp's plusses is you can write about just anything. As long as it has an address (you can even ballpark them), you can review anything. I've Yelped favorite hikes, a towing service, a Sheriff's department, a newspaper, a city, even! Someday, I have to remember to Yelp the Earth (not sure of the street address for that one though).

I travel a decent amount, and with that Yelp can be a really cool tool. Wherever I go I always do a quick scan with Yelp. I bookmark restaurants I wanna try out. I like to find out nuances about hotels which you won't find on the hotel's websites. You can also post questions on the Yelp Talk forums and get specific questions answered as well.

Getting A Life & Becoming "Cool"...Finally!
Once you get in the swing of Yelping, you become privy to more options when going out. You find yourself really searching those non-chain restaurants. You look for those places which are unique, and you become more adept at researching places to go. But randomness is also virtuous. There's nothing like discovering new and then writing about it for the sake of others. I used to not put much thought into going out (for a meal, a drink, fun, etc.), but now I try to always be on-point when & ready to go when I go out nowadays.

With that, there's a pressure. Once you become good at being able to find cool places (with thanks to Yelp), everyone will now look at YOU as a resource for picking out places to go---in other words, you become "Mr. In-The Know", or "Mr. Cool". There have been some misses, but there have been many more purely memorable places discovered via Yelp (I mentioned Muqueca, but there's also Quinn's & Paseo in Seattle, and Jimgermanbar in Waitsburg to name a few). Because of these treasures, one is always seen as the go-to person for picking out an evening's itinerary.

Inner Reporter
It's good to use Yelp as a resource, but it's also fun to be a part of the resource. I like being able to find new places to Yelp. I like being able to document all the taco trucks in my fair city. Yes, sometimes when I'm at a restaurant or other business, I snap a few pictures at the storefront or at my plate. Overall, I think Yelping has made me a more observant person when giving my business to an establishment. I'm far from being a well-seasoned foodie or cuisine critic, but I'm definitely good at giving opinions.

Yes, there's a Yelp sticker on my new bike (c/o Katie S.)

Stimulating The Economy
Yelp definitely does some stimulating. Yelp's a fairly new website, but it's quickly become fairly huge. It's used on the iPhone and on their commercials. If you look at some storefront's, you can see some "People Love Us On Yelp" stickers. When one thinks of review-websites, is definitely up at the top.

With its popularity, many of the 4/5-star business have to be getting stimulated. There's a big Yelp community, and many of these Yelpers will frequent places which are the haps. Even if this tough economy, people really need to think carefully about where they want to give their business. So Yelp helps to support those good businesses.

For people like me, who like to go out and explore new & independently-owned places (so that I can review them), it can only help these small businesses. So yeah, Yelp has done its part to help the economy, and Yelp should get its props for that.

Cool Reviews, Cool People
What keeps me coming back? The Yelp community--definitely. Yelpers are definitely cool (well, for the most part). I don't live in a big city, but I do find myself in Seattle quite a bit. And with that, I've made lots of Yelp Friends in Seattle and in other cities. I can't wait to make it to a Yelp Event in Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco---one of these days. These are parties held at pretty cool places, with free food and drink, and with tons of Yelpers. They look like fun. One of these days I'll make it to one.

And Then There Are The Never-Ending Yelp Puns:
Yeah, I find myself swapping Yelp for other words in everyday language, and I do twitch every time I do! I can't help it, I'm just like a Smurf trying to Smurf everything.

C&C Yelp Factory
H.R. Yelp N' Stuff
"Good Morning, Can I Yelp You?"
"Yelp. Yelp Like The Wind"
"I'm Not A Playa, I Just Yelp A Lot"
"Yelp is Dead. -Friedrich Nietzsche"

And the list can go on.

Yes, I'm a Yelpaholic, but there is no Yelpaholic's Anonymous, so I'll just have to make do with this vice.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I Can Blog Again

My new Gary Fisher Sugar 4 (& No It's Not A Girl's Bike, John!)

For the last few months, I hadn't felt the calling to blog. My last real blog was post after we rolled down a mountain. And since then, life's just been hectic, busy, and an up and down whirlwind---all of it in a good way.

It had been almost 6 months, but this past Saturday I finally decided to return to the scene of the "accident". I just bought a mountain bike, and yes, I could have ridden anywhere (that's the way WA just is), but my first thought: Let's go where I wrecked.

I was all down for some catharsis (sorry--for some reason this $10 word was in my head, and I had to use it!), I think checking out the crash site, and hitting the trails would be the remedy. The drive up to the trails was great. Listened to some awesome music (Bjork & Fishbone always do nicely when hugging curves on mountain roads). It's summer, but there was a chill to the air. I still chose to ride with the windows down and sunroof open. I must admit driving in my Mini (with it packed to the gills with me, mountain bike, and fly fishing stuff), on this mountain road, in the summer, was exhilerating.

And then it happened. I drove by where it happened. It came and went. I drove by where I lost control of my truck and sent 5 of us careening down a hill. No time to dwell though---I was at the trailhead.

So, I pulled out my bike, stretched the cobwebs from my old joints, got on my bike, and I was on my way. Now this was the first time I'd really been on the saddle of a mountain bike since '97 (my previous bike [Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo] was stolen just prior to me moving up to the northwest). For the most part, getting on the bike was like "riding a bike". All the motions came back to me...for the most part. There were nuances I had to get back into muscle memory. I forgot how good it felt to really use your quads. The trail I took immediately pointed upward & my legs were put into gear from the get-go.

Riding Uphill

Overall my ride was fine, but I did notice a few issues:
  • I only have a 12-speed. The tiny (hill-climbing) gear wasn't working for me---the derailleur needed to be adjusted. So, I was going to have to Armstrong-it and go in lower gears than I would have liked--I didn't care. I was here for a workout.
  • I didn't have toe-clips. It's amazing how much less force you can apply to the pedals when your feet aren't "tied down" to the pedals.
  • I should have gotten bike shorts (it's three days after the trip, and my butt bones are still feelin' it!)
  • Lastly, I might want to get a helmet (for obvious reasons).
Looking down at Bluewood

So, I basically rode a path friends and I snowshoed earlier in the year. I ended up treading some new ground and kept going passed where we snowshoed. I approached a side road, and this trail looked enticing. It was smaller and there was a non-motorized vehicle prohibited sign was up. I had to take it. After I made the first turn, I came across a deer leg. I don't know who left this here. Maybe a cougar left it as a sign: "This is my trail: turn back". Whatever the case, it got me thinking about animals---I was on their turf.

Road 500

I kept on going. One thing about mountain biking, it allows for reflection. Your mind can venture off path and think about all sorts of things. I missed this about riding. I'm so glad to be riding again. So within an hour I made it to the top of a ridge. It took me about an hour to climb 1300ft & I had some great views of valleys on both sides of me (one of which had the Bluewood Ski Resort). I chilled here for a bit, and then pointed my front wheel downward.

A Poser

Holy crap!! I forgot how fast you can go downhill. Within seconds I was easily going super-fast. This was without pedaling and with my elderly-self riding the brakes!! I don't know if its wisdom or plain old age, but barrelling down this trail was scary! It seems like in another life I would have cascaded down this rocky trail with abandon, but now I definitely had reservations. There were times I felt like I froze, but I think this was mainly related to my long absence from riding. I was able to loosen up by not putting all my weight on my hands and taking it more on my legs and upper back. I now have a full-suspension bike, but knee & elbow joints have always been the best shock absorbers.

18-minutes later I was back at the trailhead: Whew!!

The Ride

I was now officially a mountain-bike-rider again. I had a great ride, and a nice time in the Blues. The memories of sliding off an icy road was behind me (I briefly stopped at where I lost it last time, on the way back---man, we were so close to the trailhead--we crashed within a half mile of leaving the trailhead!).

We All Have Our Own El Guapo

I then headed down to Dayton, put on my waders, put on some old basketball shoes (yeah, I fly fish rez-style!), and hit the Touchet. The Touchet is a small stream, but it's fun. I caught (and released) a grip of trout. A few were on the order of 12", but the average was more like 8". It was fun though. After this I hit up the Liberty Theater and checked out a special screening of Three Amigos (a classic!!). I then stopped off at my favorite bar in the world, had a Pisco Sour, and listened to a local rock band.

All in all an excellent day. A day worthy of getting me back into blogging!