Articles about Family

First Time Down the Rogue River…Again…

On our first anniversary my wife and I flew to Hawaii and spent some time in Honolulu before hoping over to the Big Island. I was in the middle of a huge knee problem and could barely walk, which was just as well since all the NPS managed sites were closed. Still, not being able to get around very well, or sleep well, really put a damper on our trip. So as our second anniversary grew closer and I was once again plagued with some ridiculous recurring injury I knew I was going to be frustrated with the trip. But I’ll be damned if we’re not going to go. Suck it up, Buttercup…we got adventuring to do!

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This time around our plane dropped us off in less-than-sunny Oregon, Portland to be exact. A good drive from where I wanted us to be and, I imagine, a longer drive from where my wife wished we were headed. You see, a few years ago I joined Dave Wherry in Zion for a sweet day of hiking and while we were there he imparted a piece of married-guy wisdom on me that I took to heart. Dave shared a strategy that he and his wife had found successful when it came to deciding how to spend their anniversary. Each year, one of them would take the lead and plan the trip, the next year they would swap. This struck me as a brilliant idea and a sure way to insure that each half of the couple gets their fair share of their preferred type of anniversary trip.

Our first anniversary was to Hawaii. My wife planned that one, and it was awesome. Our second anniversary was my trip to plan and I really, really wanted to get her on some whitewater. I proposed the trip and she agreed…we would spend our second anniversary on the Rogue River.

We spent the first night in Portland after getting into town and meeting my sister-in-law for dinner. By freak chance she happened to be passing through Portland the same night we got into town. The next morning we tried to work out an opportunity to visit the Columbia Sportswear HQ, as all good Omniten do when in Portland, but it didn’t work out and we had a river to catch. So we headed south to drive the length of the state of Oregon and meet up with the rest of our salty crew in Northern California.

We made a quick stop for essentials in Grants Pass before driving the last leg into California before dark. Driving down the narrow and twisty curves of 199 I couldn’t help but notice how shallow the Middle Fork of the Smith looked. The canyon was boney with more rock than water, a clear indication of a dry summer season. As we swerved through the narrowest part of the canyon along the highway my wife spied a dog hiding in the brush along the narrow shoulder of the road. It was a bad spot, trapped between a curvy road on a blind corner on one side and a nearly sheer mountain cliff on the other. Either way you cut it, that dog was in trouble and neither one of us could let it stand.

We circled back and pulled into a turnout just up the road from where the dog was trapped. We waited in the car, getting a look at the dog without drawing too much of it’s attention. We didn’t want it to bolt into the road while cars where still whizzing by around the blind curve. We thought about what to do, how to approach the situation, but all prospects seemed to end badly when taken to their ultimate conclusion. Then I spotted a lull in traffic, at least I hoped it was, and I hopped out of the drivers seat hoping I could coax the dog to me easily since I was in no shape to chase it down. Luckily, the dog had similar thoughts as soon as it saw me open the door and was halfway across the road by the time I was standing by the car. She made it to us and we got her in the back seat without a fuss. Dog saved. Sighs of relief all the way around.

But now we have a dog. In a rental car. In the middle of a lonely road in Oregon. After dark. And we are running late to meet our crew to be able to get on the river the next morning. Great.

The reaction when we showed up at my buddy Scott’s house with a dog in the back seat was about what I expected, “What the fuck is that?”

A stray dog was a bad thing to have on your hands the night before a 5 day trip into the middle of nowhere. So I started making some calls. I used to live in the area and still know a few people here and there that live in Northern California. Luckily, a close friend of the family was willing to come pick up the puppy and take over the responsibility of figuring out what to do with her. We were in the clear! We had a quick dinner, got to visit a little with old river friends and meet the couple of folks I hadn’t rafted with before, and then got some sleep.

Loading up for the trip

Morning on the Rogue River

Early the next morning, just before first light, we got out of bed and started the process of packing for the trip. Most of the heavy lifting had been done the day before by the local segment of the crew and we were left to sort out our own personal gear and extra supplies. Then we were off, back up 199 and toward the put in at Grave Creek. The long drive up was uneventful as usual and putting on the river was the same carefully orchestrated chaos it always was and soon we were on the water. Happily. Thankfully. Blissfully.

Morning on the Rogue River

In my early years on the Rogue River we would complete the 34 mile trip from Grave Creek to Foster Bar in 3 days, pushing through pretty quickly. Later, with my dad learning to enjoy the river as a whole more than just the whitewater, we stretched the trip to 4 days. The guys I raft with had stretched the trip again since the last time I had rowed the Rogue to a luxurious 5 day trip. Running 34 miles of water in 5 days is a very relaxed pace, especially on the Rogue. We would get up, have breakfast, hit the water and by lunch time we were breaking out snacks and making camp. It was a lot less time in the boat that I am used to and a lot more time to think about Blossom Bar, the technical class IV toward the end of the trip. This was played up quite a bit, as usual, as we all talked about all the things that could go wrong at Blossom if we didn’t make “the move” at the top. This went on unnecessarily for 4 days before it was actually time to run Blossom.

Rogue River

The up side of such short water days was the additional time at camp casually sipping a cold beer, snacking on various goodies, visiting with old friends and telling stories. For Merelyn this was what I had hoped for, some time to get to know these people who shaped much of how I perceive the world and view adventure. River friends become so much more than just friends, they’re family. And even though I don’t see them nearly as often as I like, when we all come back to the river it connects us deeply. These were also people deeply connected to my father and there was a piece of me that really wanted Merelyn to get to know him a little better, through them. I know she felt the same way and took every opportunity to listen, sometimes requiring effort, to their wild and winding stories about my father on the river.

Rogue River camp

Important as the people were to this river trip, I also wanted Merelyn to get to know the river. I suffer from an unquenchable love of rivers and the primal feeling of running it’s current. I have wanted to share that experience with the woman I fell in love with for a long time. It’s only fair to bring my two loves together so they can acquaint themselves with each other and come to an understanding. I think I was successful. The river was beautiful and generous with us, the low water and the slow pace of the trip made it an easier run for a first timer and even though I’m sure Merelyn would rather have been on a pristine sandy beach in Hawaii, I know she came to enjoy the river as well. The river is a relentless seductress and it is impossible, given enough time, to resist it’s sensuous melody. Toward the end of the trip Merelyn turned to me, possibly begrudgingly, and admitted that the Rogue River made for a good anniversary trip. Good enough that it could be repeated whenever it was my turn to plan our anniversary.

That’s good enough for me!

Merelyn on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

It was absolutely impossible to run the Rogue River again without thinking about my #Omniten friends. Our guided trip together last year down this same stretch of river was a memorable trip and I miss those people tremendously. As much as I really love running a private trip, in control of my own raft and my own oars, I still had an amazing time with Columbia and the whole crew in Oregon last year. Maybe some day I’ll be able to get some of them out on this river under a private trip. That would be incredible. As it was, this trip seemed like it was half-sponsored by Columbia Sportswear anyway since a ton of their gear made it down the river with us. My wife was head-to-toe Columbia most times at camp with Omnifreeze shirts for the day and Omniheat baselayers at night, Drainmaker Shoes, and a puffy. I also had my Drainmakers, various Omniheat gear and the killer new Turbodown puffy jacket. Killer gear makes it on all the trips and Columbia stuff is always with us.

Rogue River Columbia Drainmakers

It’s always hard to say goodbye to old friends knowing that you’ll likely not see them again for a long time. Especially when a river, a few boats and a handful of campfires are involved. I’m glad that Merelyn got to get to know them on the river where they are most purely themselves. That’s the funny thing about river people, you don’t really ever get to know them until you know them on the river. They aren’t the same when they’re not on the water. After our 5 days on the Rogue we were running out of time and had to make quick work out of our goodbyes and hit the road. With handshakes, hugs and heart promises to do it again soon, we drove our dusty little rental care out of the takeout and up over the mountain toward Grants Pass. We grabbed some dinner in town and hammered through a week’s worth of missed emails and messages and high-tailed it up to Portland again where we spent WAY too much money on a hotel room and crashed for the night.

The next day we woke up and headed downstairs just as the Portland Marathon was wrapping up. That explained why our hotel room was so expensive. I headed down to the parking garage to grab the rental car and discovered it had a dead battery. It took nearly 4 hours for us to finally get a new vehicle so we missed out on a lot of sight seeing that morning around Portland but we did manage to make arrangements to meet a friend from Columbia for a late lunch. Daniel Green carved out some time on our last afternoon in Oregon to meet us for some food and beer at Base Camp Brewery. Brew was pretty good (I sampled just about everything they made) and Daniel was great company. Even if we didn’t get to make it to the Columbia HQ while we were in town, getting to see Daniel almost made up for it.

Tastings at Base Camp Brewery

On our way to the airport we had another freak coincidence as we noticed a couple of very close friends of ours checked-in on Facebook at a restaurant in Portland. They had come into town to celebrate their anniversary as well and were flying out the same afternoon. We managed to meet them for a few minutes at the airport before we had to head through security. It’s small world, especially when one travels often. It’s fun to know that we have friends everywhere and there’s always a pretty good chance we’ll run into someone. For me that’s especially true in Oregon.

It turned out to be a great trip, even if I was partially laid up and in pain. I have a hard time finding any way to complain when I get to be on the river. Merelyn had a great time too and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get her out on some whitewater. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to get around a little better and she won’t have to work so hard. No matter what, we’re definitely doing this again.

Blossom Bar-

For those of you who have not run much water, class IV rapids can get ugly pretty fast. We talked about it a little on our Columbia trip, how technical Blossom Bar could get and what we needed to do to avoid a bad day. Not long before this trip, someone had had a bad day at Blossom Bar and the evidence was still there as we went through. Just to show you (especially YOU, Omniten), this is what a bad day looks like at Blossom Bar if you don’t make “the move” at the top.

 

Rogue River Blossom Bar

…About that Dog-

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After we had left, our good friends Pam and Steve contacted a local that had expressed some interest in the dog. They left the puppy with her on the condition she’d follow through with the vet, check for a microchip and, if all came back clear, take care of her. Later that first day after getting the dog, someone recognized her from posters that had been left around town. It turns out the dog was in Northern California getting specialized training. She was a Belgian Malinois, a prized pure bred related to a German Shepherd and just as trainable. A Canadian family had bought her from a special breeder and had spent a decent amount of money to have her trained in the states. They had flown in to pick up the dog, her name is Aspen, and drive her home to Canada. Somewhere along 199 before Grants Pass she somehow got out of her crate and was either thrown or jumped from the back of their truck. She had been out there at least a few days before we found her.

Once the local woman who had taken her realized what she had, she made a phone call and Aspen’s family was on the next flight out to come get her and bring her home. Aspen is now at home with her family.

Gotta love a happy ending.

Birthday in Bedrock…

There’s a lot to write about after all that we’ve stuffed into the last 4 days…but it all starts in in the stone age.

It was my wife’s birthday this week (we won’t talk about how old she is) and since I wasn’t going to be on the John Muir Trail we wanted to take a trip together.  We settled on a short camping trip to the Grand Canyon and got all of the necessary things in order so we could head out mid-week.

There were a lot of big things in play this week that made the trip exciting.  First it was Merelyn’s birthday and this was all about her having fun.  Second, it was a test of my busted foot to see if I could handle a little easy hiking so I could start getting out again.  Third, I have really been after shooting at the Grand Canyon since getting back into photography last year and this would be a great chance to catch Summer storms in the canyon.  Last but not least, we rented a teardrop trailer for this trip to see if it was something we might consider purchasing in the future.  I’ll get into most of that stuff in separate posts, but this post is about Merelyn’s birthday in Bedrock.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

If you haven’t cruised up 64 just outside of Williams, Arizona towards the Grand Canyon then you’ve probably never heard of this gem of Americana.  Bedrock City was built in 1972 as an homage to the 1960’s Flinstones Cartoon.  It originally had live actors, a stage show and a variety of interactive displays but these days feels more like some surreal amusement park ghost town.  But that’s what makes it awesome!

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

We had a late start getting on the road and I told Merelyn she got to pick our campsite for the night since we weren’t going to make it to our ultimate camp destination in the National Park until the next day.  She did a quick look on Yelp and saw Bedrock City and we just had to check it out.  I mean seriously, what good is a vacation if you can’t make a spontaneous, impromptu stop at a defunct amusement park based on a beloved childhood cartoon?  Isn’t that what adventure is all about?

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

This place lived up to every possible expectation we could have had.  It was fun, scary, strange, amusing, exciting, creepy, playful, nostalgic and bizarre all at the same time and we loved it.  I limped and hobbled along in The Boot trying to keep up with Merelyn as she explored every building and posed with every display.  The place is deceivingly huge with buildings everywhere including Fred and Barney’s houses, a general store, post office, movie theater that actually plays the old cartoons, a police station, hospital, school and various other assorted buildings including a huge brontosaurus slide.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

It was her birthday and she got to choose the type of adventure we would have and from her ear-to-ear grin I don’t think she was disappointed.  We started our day in Bedrock and ended it at camp in the Grand Canyon.  The next few days were a perfect balance of excitement, exploration and relaxation…perfect vacation if you ask me.

Bedrock Birthday-Bedrock

Waiting in Nazca…

The ancient plastic chair groaned in protest as my dad plopped down next to me disturbing the thin layer of dust that seemed to settle on everything in town.  I was reclining in my own relic of a chair with my feet propped up on my dusty, overloaded backpack settling in for what we knew would be a long wait.  The sun was already getting low in the sky, stretching long shadows across the dirt lot beside the run-down metal and brick building that passed for a bus station in these parts.  The buses that traverse the Pan American Highway through South America were notorious for running on no schedule whatsoever.  Our intrepid bus was already an hour late and not a living soul could tell us when it might make an appearance, “Es coming….no problem.”  We didn’t care, it was all part of the adventure.

It was toward the end of our first week of a month long trip through southern Peru.  My dad and I had spent the last couple of days in the despairingly dry deserts around Nazca.  We’d made a friend the first day in town who served as our guide and chauffeur, happily driving us around town in his faded blue American-made muscle car that belched thick black smoke with every throaty rev of it’s powerful engine.  Like most people we met in Peru, he seemed genuinely happy to show us around “his” town and share his local knowledge.

Dad in the Deserts outside Nazca Peru

After a simple breakfast near the hostel our new friend had taken us out to the local air field where we took a small, private plane on a flight tour over the Nazca Lines.  Afterward, he offered to drive us out to one of the few hills that offered an elevated view of the lines from the ground.  Our driver patiently waited for us and even offered to climb up the hill and take our picture, the whole time telling us stories about the area.  When we cruised back in to town we grabbed a bite to eat and made our way to the bus station to check in and wait for our ride.  We’d had a long day and Dad and I were every bit as dusty and tired as the rest of this old desert town.

Dad and I near the Nazca Lines

A common thread in our travels through South America were locals enthusiastic about helping us with our Spanish.  My language skills were decent but my dad struggled with sentence structure and pronunciation to the great amusement of our hosts.  But no matter where we were, they would greet our halting, butchered attempts at conversation with a friendly smile and patience.  Settling in at the bus station was no different and as more people filtered in to wait for their ride we soon found ourselves attempting a clunky conversation in broken Spanish with a friendly local.

I had been studying Spanish in preparation for our trip, but this early in country I was still fumbling with the language.  Still, I was doing better than Dad, so as the conversation played out I tried to translate for him as best as I could.  Our guy was a local worker who commuted back and forth from the mountains to the lowlands.  He asked us the usual questions about where we were from and how we were related.  But soon I was in over my head and with the conversation in danger of a slow death a woman who was sitting nearby started to help translate.  It turned out she was a Canadian who had been in South America for the last two years teaching English on her way to the southern tip of Chile.  Soon, she had moved in to our circle and joined the conversation as we all introduced ourselves and told our stories.

With the Canadian helping the flow of conversation we learned that our Spanish speaking local was there with a friend, a local Quechua who only spoke his native language.  Not wanting to be left out from what was quickly turning into a very entertaining event, he joined the conversation telling jokes and laughing with us as his buddy translated for him.  It was now dark and the weak, flickering florescent lights cast their unnatural glow on us from overhead.  Our Quechua friend introduced a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and took a big swig, topping it off with Rum before passing it around.  With every pass of the 2-liter we would drain a portion of the bottle and when it made it back to our Quechua friend he would top it off with Rum.

Street scene in Nazca Peru

Our laughter grew louder and our stories more animated as we became more comfortable with the conversation being translated from English to Spanish to Quechua and back again.  The Rum flowed as we all shared jokes and stories and laughed as if we were old friends.  The bus was over four hours late arriving at the bus station that night but we didn’t mind.  We shook hands and slapped each other on the back in farewell as we boarded and soon we were sleeping as the big bus rumbled it’s way through the night down the dark highway.

Many months later,  my dad and I were rehashing details about the trip when I realized that our last day in Nazca had been his birthday.  I suddenly felt guilty for letting it slip my mind and not wishing him a happy birthday, getting him a gift or doing something special.  As I apologized to him he began laughing at me, his big hearty laugh that was always so contagious and said, “Don’t be sorry, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  That night at the bus stop in Nazca was the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

A couple of years before he died, my dad told me how grateful he was that I had invited him to go to Peru with me, and many other adventures after that.  It meant a lot to him that I would want to share those trips with “my dad”.  I had to explain to him that it never really was about sharing the trip with “my dad”, it was more about inviting the best partner I could think of in any adventure.  I just happened to luck out that the best guy for the job happened to be my father.  I hope he understood how amazingly grateful I was that he made the time to travel with me.

He is missed, and every new adventure reminds me of him.  It’s not very often you can find someone who greets challenge and adversity with a hearty laugh and a smile and is game to try anything at least once.

Happy Father’s Day…

Dad in Peru overlooking the valley

Chasing Winter in Oregon…

Phoenix is world famous for it’s scorching Summer heat.  It’s borderline uninhabitable here during the Summer months, but our Winters are nothing short of amazing for beautiful weather.  However, that means we don’t really get a traditional Winter with frigid cold, crisp ice and beautiful soft snow.  I grew to appreciate the Winters around Reno and Tahoe for the short time I got to spend up there with Merelyn before she was transferred to Texas.  I missed the snow and the cold.

In December, Sedona got it’s first snow of the season and I dropped everything and ran up there to enjoy the snow and capture some photos with a fellow shutterbug.  After that amazing trip, I wanted more snow.  I wanted to really get some quality Winter time in and I knew January was going to be full of opportunities.

Since my wife works retail, we don’t get to travel on Christmas.  So in January, we headed up north to Oregon to visit my brother and his family.  My mother also came out to visit and we had a late family Christmas together at my brother’s new house.  Merelyn had never been to Portland and I was excited to get her on the plane for a new adventure in Northern Oregon.  It helped that a storm had been rolling in and there had been fresh snow throughout that part of the country.  I just hoped the freeways were clear as we crawled into the SUV with my brother for the drive across the state.

Winter in Oregon - Multnomah FallsMerelyn and I had been sitting for hours and were looking at another long sit in the car, so we had asked if we could stop and check out any short hikes along the Columbia River.  My brother suggested we check out Multnomah Falls.  None of us had ever hiked it before and the falls is located just off the highway so it seemed like an easy choice.  It was cold and rainy and Merelyn wasn’t feeling well, she’d caught the seasonal crud like everyone else.  But she curled up in one of my new Columbia shells and braved the weather with my brother and I.

Multnomah Falls is 620 feet high, making it the second highest year-round waterfall in the Country.  The trail sets off from the lodge and crosses a couple of quaint, picturesque bridges before turning into a series of paved switchbacks that offer views of the Columbia River before reaching the top.  There was some trail maintenance going on at the top so the end of the trail along the edge of the water was nothing but thick, sticky mud.  My brother and I slogged through the mud to the overlook which offered a view straight down the 620 foot drop.  Nothing spectacular, but I would recommend anyone do the hike at least once if you’re in the area.

Weather was clear for the rest of the drive, and we arrived at my brother’s place in the dark.  We had a great time with the family and I was finally in cold and snowy conditions allowing me to put some of my Winter gear to the test.  Columbia had sent me a battery powered Winter jacket just as the weather turned warm in Arizona and I hadn’t had a chance to use it all year.  I was finally spending a week in weather down to 4 degrees allowing me to test it’s functionality.

I really just enjoyed the cold.  I was outside every chance I got, even if just to walk out onto the back porch while it was snowing to play with the dogs.  I’ve always preferred the cold over heat.  How I ended up in Phoenix of all places sometimes eludes me.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

All of us took one particularly cold afternoon and visited the Oregon Trail Center in Baker.  While most everyone was happy to stay indoors and casually meander through the displays, I breezed through the covered wagons and educational videos and headed outside to the snow covered trails.  My footprints were the only ones out there besides the birds and a few cats.  I was bundled up and I had my camera to capture some really nice shots of the sun flooding through the stormy clouds over snow-covered valley.  It was a really nice area and so different than the scenery in Arizona.

Winter in Oregon - Oregon Trail

My mother left early to try to make it out of the valley before the next storm hit.  The next day we all bundled up and headed out early for an afternoon on the slopes.  I had never snowboarded before and was anxious to try it out.  On the way out, we stopped at the Elk Feeding Station outside Baker City for a quick tour of the Elk.  Operated by T&T Wildlife Tours for the last 22 years, they use huge draft horses to haul people down the hill to the feed operation where you can watch the Elk feed only a few yards away.  They also offer a wealth of information about the animals and the feed operation.

Winter in Oregon - Draft horses pulling the carriage at the Elk Viewing

After the Elk we headed up the hill to Anthony Lakes to try out some snowboarding.  We got our passes and rented the gear we needed for the afternoon.  Merelyn, feeling a little better by now, rented skis and I got boots so I could strap into a borrowed snowboard.  The kids were off for some lessons at the you-don’t-belong-here slope while my brother tried to talk me through the basics.  We joined the kids at the tiny we-don’t-know-what-we’re-doing area where I was surrounded by miniature skiers and snowboarders who already knew more than I did.

Winter in Oregon - Anthony Lakes

Winter in Oregon - my brother and I on the liftEntirely frustrating at first, once I learned how to stand up without immediately falling back down I started to have fun.  My brother had little patience for this, as did I, so as soon as I could stand up he suggested we get on the lift and try a real hill.  “You’re not going to learn anything on this”, he had said at the bunny slope.  He was right.

Of course I did my fair share of falling, but not as much as I expected.  I really only toppled over a few times and recovered quickly.  It was also not nearly as exhausting as I expected it to be and we managed to get a couple of runs in on one of the longer intermediate slopes.  Our second time out the whole family went up and while my brother helped his youngest with his snowboarding, Merelyn skied circles around me.  Still, I had a blast and wished we could have done more.  I was just starting to get comfortable on the snowboard when it was time to go.  I look forward to getting more opportunities to learn.

Winter in Oregon - Merelyn and I on the liftOn the way back we grabbed sushi and the six of us had a great dinner together.  I downloaded the images I managed to get off of my new GoPro for everyone to check out.  The next day I took the GoPro out again and got some video of the kids sliding around on the icy roads while we walked to their grandmother’s house.  Those kids love to be on camera and really ham it up.  I loved it.

Leaving was bitter-sweet.  I hated to go, but I knew I’d be heading to Salt Lake City and Idaho within a week or so of getting home and that would be another fun adventure in awesome Winter weather.  It was snowing in Portland as we left and I couldn’t help but think how nice it will be when, one day, we can live where the Winters are white.

Somewhere like, oh…I don’t know…maybe TAHOE!

 

Winter in Oregon Gallery…

New Orleans: An Unexpected Journey…

It started out simple enough…

I was in Houston for Christmas and Merelyn had a couple of days off for New Years.  We hadn’t really made plans for anything so we decided to head to Galveston for some quick beach time and then head home for a quiet New Year’s Eve together.  Then, about a half an hour into our drive, Merelyn said, “You know…we could just drive to New Orleans for New Year’s.”

Now, she’s mentioned driving to New Orleans before.  It’s only about 6 hours away and neither of us have been there.  It could be fun, but every time we’ve looked into it we’ve decided not to go.  I knew it was something she wanted to do before leaving Houston.  So when she threw the suggestion out there (half joking I’m sure), I took the bait.

“Is there any reason why we couldn’t go right now?”

We went through the list: No clothes, no toothbrush, the cats didn’t have enough food, etc.  None of those reasons, I argued, would be a problem in the next 24 to 36 hours.  We could drive to New Orleans, be there in time for dinner and hang out for New Year’s, maybe spend the night then drive home.  No problem.  Merelyn seemed a little surprised and scared that I was actually accepting her challenge but I thought it would be FUN!

As quick as that, we changed our plans from a few hours in Galveston to an overnight trip to New Orleans.  We made a quick stop at the Johnson Space Center then headed East.

We were both so excited to be on this spontaneous adventure that the drive was easy.  Merelyn was excited to be exploring and I was excited to get out of Texas and see some of Louisiana.  We usually have a good time on road trips, laughing and talking and exploring the sights.  This was no different and the added excitement of just going, without a plan, made it all that much better.

Action in the French Quarter - New Orleans

beautiful New OrleansAbout an hour outside of New Orleans we started looking for a hotel (we found none for a reasonable price) and a bank so we could grab some cash.  We found a bank next to a grocery store, so we grabbed some cash and did a quick run for some essentials (toothbrushes and beer).  Then we were off to explore the French Quarter!

We parked in the sketchiest of sketchy parking garages where they were packing cars in like it was a contest.  I was convinced they were going to keep piling cars in until the rickety, rust-bucket structure collapsed.  We paid our $20 and high-tailed it to Bourbon Street, right in the heart of the French Quarter, where the action was just picking up steam.

Even through the thick, drunken crowds of Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ historic French Quarter is charming.  We grabbed a beer and walked up and down the streets and alleyways checking out the architecture and looking through the windows of the shops and galleries.  We got away from the crowds a little bit and took our time sight-seeing.  We walked down to the waterfront and walked along the river for a while.  Then ventured back into the rabble and checked out a few bars and pubs, had a couple more drinks and a snack.

Getting ready for Midnight -  New OrleansCloser to midnight we headed back down to the riverfront park and waited for the big fireworks show.  It was cold and I had offered up my jacket to keep my wife from getting chilled.  We hung out on a grassy rise, looking out over the Mississippi, holding each other close to stay warm.  It’s been difficult these past couple years spending so much time apart.  So when midnight came, there was a sweet and simple triumph in getting to kiss my wife at the ringing in of the New Year while fireworks painted the night sky…in New Orleans.

Spur of the moment adventures can be full of magic and excitement.  There’s nothing better than ending your day in a totally unexpected and amazing way.  That morning, we had a modest plan and no expectations and we ended our night with a magical moment in a new city.  I can only hope that throughout our marriage we make time for many more spontaneous adventures together.

New Year's Fireworks - New Orleans

I loved our New Orleans adventure, does anyone else have any awesome, unexpected, spontaneous adventures they can share?

Dear Santa…

‘Tis the season for one and all to come out with all manner of gift suggestions for the holidays.  We all browse through the lists and suggestions, looking for ideas and clues for special things for our family and friends.  But there’s so many choices, so many lists…

There are lists for men and lists for boys…
lists for climbers with lots of toys…
lists for paddlers and lists for bikers…
then there’s always lots of lists for hikers…
or a down bag for two and plenty of whiskey
for when you and yours are feeling frisky!
There are watches and phones with GPS gadgets,
knives and axes and short-handled hatchets…
That list there has lots of clothing
for when the snow really gets going.
But none of these lists are all that complete,
and for what I need they can not compete.
My list is different, my needs are unique…
so I’ve created my own, please have a peek…

So here it is, since I won’t presume to tell you what gifts are best this season for you…this is MY Wish List this Christmas.  And maybe you’ll find a few gems in here that might work for someone you know as well.

Dear Santa, what I want for Christmas…

  1. The Shag Master Hoodie from TADGear.com looks like an awesomely soft and comfy winter jacket.  I’m sucker for soft, fluffy sweaters and jackets…and it usually means lots of hugs from pretty girls my beautiful wife when I’m wearing one. ($200)
  2. Goal Zero Guide 10 solar charger – I’ve been looking at these for a long time and keep talking myself out of buying one…maybe Santa will bring me one so I don’t have to agonize over the decision anymore. ($120)
  3. Kurgo Dog Pack – I have been wanting to get Wiley her own pack for a while now.  This pack from Kurgo is the one I’ve been checking out, it seems to be a pretty universal fit and is a reasonable price. ($30)
  4. Snow Peak Mini Hozuki Lantern – Snow Peak has been coming out with some cool lantern designs.  The Mini Hozuki would be a nice little addition to my hammock setup. ($40)
  5. Snow Peak Titanium Cook Set – This comes highly recommended and everyone loves Snow Peak.  I also have a couple of stoves that will nest nicely inside. ($45)
  6. Jetboil Sol Ti – I love my Jetboil enough that I would really like the smaller solo titanium version for lighter trips. ($150)
  7. Snow Peak Chopping Board and knife – This super cool travel cutting board/knife combo will make camp cooking prep easy!  Not really a backpacking setup, but I am working on putting together a nice camp-kitchen. ($40)
  8. MountainSmith Modular Hauling System (4 piece) – This is good little package for organizing camping/travel gear.  I’ve seen this on a few other “gift suggestion” lists as well. ($100)
  9. GoPro Hero 3 – this is THE HD camera to have it seems…I have to admit that I love the images it produces and it would allow me to start doing more video.  ($400)

I left off the unreasonable items that Santa would have trouble fitting into his sleigh.  What is on YOUR wish list this year?  I want to know what fun little gadgets and goodies you guys are looking for this year…who knows, I might find some inspiration to add to my own wish list!

Merry Chrismahanukwanzakah to all!

Heading to Costa Rica…

Nothing like the last minute…

 

Merelyn and I have been talking about what we want to do for our honeymoon for a long time.  We started out talking about Costa Rica but looked at many other options including Hawaii, Mexico and parts local.  We both have had so many things going on with work, finances, living situations, etc. that, for a while there, it looked like we weren’t going to get a honeymoon at all.

Finally, with much anxiety and great determination we decided to make it happen.

So, next month after our wedding in Lake Tahoe, will will be happily heading south to beautiful Costa Rica for a week at the Hilton Papagayo Hotel in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Hilton Papagayo Hotel

from the Hilton Papagayo Hotel Website…

We are both very excited about this trip.  Neither of us has been to Costa Rica before and we are looking forward to getting to see as much of it as possible from our little bungalow on Bahia Culebra.  Looking over the activities offers everything from hiking the Arenal Volcano, Jungle Canopy Tours, Zip-lines, Kayaking, sailing and fishing, whitewater rafting and so much more.  We can’t wait to get there and explore and take TONS of photos.

Hilton Papagayo Hotel

from the Hilton Papagayo Hotel Website…

I’ve already found hints of pre-Columbian ruins near the hotel that I would love to check out.  The hotel has jogging and hiking trails and there are tons of activities to keep us busy even if we never left the property.

I’ve always been in love with the thought of going to Costa Rica, and nearly moved there several years ago.  I think this is an appropriate place to take my new bride to celebrate our new life together.  I would like to thank both of our parents for their help and support in pulling the wedding together, and financially helping us so we could be in a position to make this amazing honeymoon happen.

Hilton Papagayo Hotel

from the Hilton Papagayo Hotel Website…

If you’ve ever been to Costa Rica I would love to hear suggestions or ideas of things we should check out.  We will be on the Pacific side near Guanacaste.  And if you happen to know someone in the area, I love to meet locals who can get us off the beaten path and show us some of the real gems of the area.

An Unusual Dream…

I had a dream this morning.

You know the kind of dreams you have right before you wake up that seem so very real…

In my dream, a friend of mine and I were, for some inexplicable reason, working late in a restaurant and having difficulty closing up.  As is often the case in my dreams, there was a task to be done and infinite problems continually got in the way of completing the task.  But, after what seemed like hours in my dream, we finally finished the task and left the restaurant…late for some sort of get together.

As we crossed the parking lot toward my truck, casually chatting, I began to notice someone in the parking lot moving to intersect with our course.  I paid little attention to this man, but could see that he was deliberately moving to meet us.  I continued to ignore him as he stepped in front of my path and I even attempted to move out of his way.  The man, intent on getting my attention, stepped in front of me again now nearly bumping in to each and other I finally looked up to see what he wanted.

The rest of the dream was stripped away as I looked into my father’s face.  He was younger than I remember him, before he began working as a correctional officer.  He was thin like he was when I was in High School and his hair was longer and he wore his typical beard.  He was dressed casually, as I would expect him to dress now for any normal afternoon in public.  He smiled his broad smile at me and his eyes were bright and alive with laughter.  I don’t know when he had reached out but I felt his hands firmly on my shoulders, holding me steady.

I broke from my initial shock and I grabbed him in a huge bear-hug and asked him what he was doing there.  Not in the sense that it was impossible, but only that I did not expect him to be here.  The party we were late for was a good-bye party for him, and he became worried when I was running late and went to find me.  He reminded me he was leaving and wanted to make sure I was going to come say good-bye.  Just as I was assuring him that I would not miss my opportunity to say good-bye, I woke up.

I lay in bed, dazed.  His image still burned into my brain.  This was unique, I never dream of my Dad.  This was the most vivid and real his presence has felt since the last time I saw him in 2004.  I had just bought my house and I hosted Thanksgiving that year.  I had a lot of family visiting and I was so busy with preparations for Thanksgiving that my memories of him from then are a blur.  He was so real and clear to me this morning that I didn’t know how else to process the experience except to write about it.

Such a simple dream…but so very real.  I’m shaken, but comforted at the same time.  I really don’t know what to do with this.  I have so much going on in my personal life lately, so much stress and uncertainty but also so much happiness.  Maybe I just needed to be set back on my foundation.  Maybe I just needed that reassuring smile and those strong hands to reach out and grab me by the shoulders and steady me.

We’ll see…maybe this was exactly what I needed right when I needed it.

Weekend at the Overland Expo 2012…

Every Wednesday afternoon for a couple months now (I think) I have been a regular participator in the Adventure Travel Q&A Twitter Chat hosted by J. Brandon (@AmericanSahara) and Katie Boué (@TheMorningFresh).  The chat is sponsored by the Overland Expo and my first week participating in the chat, I won a day pass to the 2012 Overland Expo at Mormon Lake, just outside Flagstaff, Arizona.  I had never heard of it, and had no idea what I was getting in to, but it was only a couple hours drive and an excuse to go camping.

I spent a little over 2 days walking around and looking at some of the most amazing overland travel machines and gear I have ever seen!  I was introduced to people who have made overland excursions a lifestyle and spend months (or sometimes years) on adventures across the planet.  I won’t get into detail about who was there, who had the biggest/bestest rig or gave the best classes.  Suffice it to say, it was a huge show with many impressive products on display and many knowledgeable people sharing their wisdom.

I’m a hiker and backpacker, primarily.  I travel light and lean and don’t require a lot of support.  Whitewater rafting is a little different and closer to the Overlander mindset.  However, this event introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about travel and adventure.

What it really did was get me thinking about how I might be able to travel and seek out adventure with a new family.  I will be getting married in October to a beautiful, adventurous woman and we’ve talked about having kids.  Exploring the world with a young child is a much different experience than we are used to.  Seeing the way some of the people were equipped for their overland adventures really got my mind racing about the travel possibilities with my future family.  We both want to raise a child that is no stranger to travel, exploration or the outdoors.

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do…but the possibilities are exciting.

Trip Report: Paddling Buffalo Bayou…

We had talked about this for a while.  I had heard, and confirmed, that the Houston REI rented out kayaks.  So, once I got a few extra bucks in my pocket, I made arrangements for us to rent a couple of kayaks from REI and paddle part of the Buffalo Bayou.

 

Twin kayaks on the honda civic...

They said it couldn't be done...

The look on the face of the guy at REI who saw us pull up in a 2004 Honda Civic to pick up our kayaks was priceless.  With some help, we got them secured to the roof of the car.  He found the spectacle entertaining enough that he insisted on getting a picture.  The put-in for Section 5 of the Buffalo Bayou was less than a mile away so I was not all that worried about the kayaks.  We drove out of the parking lot of the Houston REI and up a side street through a beautiful neighborhood to Briar Bend Park.  Access to the Bayou at Briar Bend is behind the park.

Access was pretty easy, even toting heavy 10ft plastic recreational kayaks.  The beasts we rented were not like the sleek, light sport kayaks I’m used to.  These were the heavy, lumbering Old Town Vapor 10 kayaks.  Short, wide and made of heavy plastic, these boats were nearly 50lbs without any gear and made to take a beating.  I would consider them a pretty good beginners kayak, with a relatively flat bottom and very wide mid-section they were very stable.  I’m not sure if I could have tipped it over if I tried.

Our plan for the day had options: We initially thought we would paddle downstream from Section 4 (Briar Bend Park) to the put in for Section 5 (Woodway Memorial Park) and if it didn’t take too long we would just paddle back upstream to Briar Bend.  The Bayou is a pretty slow moving water way and paddling upstream would not be difficult.  Plus, we did not schedule a shuttle or plan for leaving a vehicle at a designated take-out.  Plan B was to drift on past Woodway Memorial on to the other side of Memorial Park and perhaps further if we kept up a fast pace.  We expected to be out for about 4 hours.  Without a shuttle, we had decided we’d just pull off the bayou wherever we wanted and grab a cab to take one of us back to our car while the other waited with the kayaks.

So, with options for the day, we carried our giant hogs down to the water and prepared ourselves for an afternoon of paddling.

LESSON ONE:

Always bring more food than you need.  We were running a little late that morning getting started, so we did not get the chance to run by the store to stock up on snacks for the afternoon.  I had packed water, almonds and a couple of apples.  Turns out almonds and a couple of apples are not enough food for a 5+ hour paddling trip.  Make sure to pack enough food and water to last longer than you anticipate being gone.

The put-in at Briar Bend is nice.  It’s tree covered and an easy walk to the water’s edge.  The Bayou is very narrow here so this is one of the few places with an actual riffle of fast moving water.  I set up Merelyn at the lower end of the rapid so she didn’t have to push-off in to a fast current and then set myself up a little higher (just for fun).  Once on the water, we got ourselves settled in to our boats and began our paddle trip.

The water on the Bayou is slow and murky, exactly what I expected from a Bayou.  It is definitely a leisurely paddling trip, we kept up a decent pace but it was still plenty slow enough to enjoy some of the more scenic turns.  Old growth trees, hanging their heavy, gnarled limbs over the water as if guarding the muddy shoreline.  Vines draping low as they weave between the tree branches added to the dense vegetation.  The Buffalo Bayou winds it’s way through the heart of Houston.  So, from time to time, the trees open up to reveal some building or another peaking through the greenery.  Much of the Bayou is adjacent to high-end private estates or golf communities so the architecture seen from the water can be impressive.

As we paddled along, learning how to handle the new boats, we started to see the signs of wildlife along the waterway.  Often, something would slip in to the murky water before we could get a good look at what it was.  But we did see snakes, turtles and fish as well as a variety of birds.

LESSON TWO:

Know the skill level of your party.  Little did I know, Merelyn had virtually no experience in a kayak.  I’ve seen her use the sit-on kayaks on trips to Mexico and she handles the paddle with confidence so I never suspected her lack of experience.  On most whitewater trips, I don’t assume anyone has experience unless I’ve paddled with them before.  I would normally run through a quick “how-to” and talk about fitting the kayak, posture, paddle grip and technique.  Along the way, once I realized she was struggling with certain parts of paddling, we did a quick lesson on steering, stopping, correcting, etc.  It’s important to know the skill level of your adventure partner and, if you are the one lacking experience in a particular skill, you should not feel embarrassed or afraid to ask for help.

We reached our first take-out option pretty quickly.  We stopped for a minute to discuss our options: paddle back, or keep on going?  Ultimately we chose to keep on going under the assumption that the next leg would take us about the same amount of time as Section 5.  We had a quick snack of some almonds and I ate one of the apples (Merelyn was afraid they were too old and not good anymore).  The next section proved to be much more technical than the first.  The path of the Bayou became more twisted and littered with debris.  Consequently, the water moved even slower forcing us to work harder.  We both had assumed that as we neared the Memorial Park area, there would be places where we could get out of the Bayou prematurely if we were getting tired…this was not the case.  The shoreline continued to be a thick, matted jungle of shrubs, vines and tree-limbs.  And where it wasn’t so heavily vegetated, the shore was either too steep to ascend or was private property and clearly not welcome to trespassers.

We paddled on.  The map we had picked up from REI showed the Bayou Paddle Trail and the areas where access was available.  However, the map was remarkably small and lacking in detail and many of the supposed access points were not marked.  Without knowing exactly how far we had to go, or how long it would take us, uncertainty began to weigh on my hungry companion (“almonds are NOT food”).  The Bayou was loosing it’s charm.  The shear volume of litter and trash that choke the waterway was disturbing to both of us.  Some parts were worse than others but it seems that the Bayou has been the personal dumping ground for the population of Houston.

LESSON THREE:

Know your equipment.  The ability to rent expensive equipment like rafts and kayaks is great, it grants you the opportunity to participate in an activity that you otherwise couldn’t afford.  The problem is, most times you are renting equipment you may have never used and may never use again.  In some cases, this can be a deadly problem.  Luckily, in our case, I had experience with several different styles of kayaks and once I knew there was an issue I could address it.  Again, don’t be afraid to ask about your equipment.  Let the outfitter know that you want them to walk you through the features of the equipment you are renting.  You’re paying to use it, get the most out of it by knowing what it can do.

Shortly before we came to the Hogg Bird Sanctuary, Merelyn and I stopped and she complained about not being able to find a comfortable position in the kayak.  It was wearing her down, constantly having to shift around to find a stable position.  This is when we realized that she had never found the foot braces.  They had been pushed so far forward by the last person to use the kayak that she didn’t even know they were there.  Once we adjusted them so that she could reach them, and fine tuned them until she was comfortable, everything changed.  Suddenly, she was comfortable in the kayak, had better posture and a stronger stroke.  She was re-energized and anxious to reach familiar ground.

We never did see the exit point at the Hogg Bird Sanctuary (beginning of Section 7) and looking at the map, decided we’d shoot for a take-out at Eleanor Tensley Park (just short of Section 8).  The Bayou straightens out after the Hogg Bird Sanctuary and we were able to make good time, especially with Merelyn’s new-found mastery of her kayak.  The cruised along at a good pace, the bayou opened up at the shore and we no longer felt “trapped”.  We pushed to a spot along Eleanor Tensley Park where we could pull the kayaks out and wash them off a little before dragging them, and our gear, up the hill to the parking lot.

LESSON FOUR:

Always have an exit strategy.  It’s always good to have a plan, and a backup plan.  But makes sure your plans are well thought out and you are prepared for them.  As much as “eh, we’ll figure it out when we get there” can make for a great story and adventure, it can also create pain, misery and resentment.  It’s best to have a clear, well designed plan for concluding your excursions.  One that everyone is informed about and agrees with.  

It was getting late, so I called a cab company (the only one in town) and put Plan B into action.  The answering service for the cab company hung up on me when I failed to find a physical street address for the park.  Turns out, this park has NO listed street address.  It has no address on any of the signage either, nor the website, nor the map.  This, as we were to find, makes the park invisible to cab drivers.  I looked up an address (not even sure it was a proper address) online for the park, but without the numbers displayed somewhere we were gonna have problems.  I finally convinced the dispatcher to send a cab our way.  I watched, who I believe was our cabby, drive by the park 3 times before I got a phone call from him angrily asking where I was.

I was berated, in broken English, for sending this guy on a wild-goose chase to an address that “does not exist!”.  I watched him drive by two more times while I had him on the phone and could not get him to understand that the giant green grassy area with the trees was THE PARK!  I finally waved down the irate cab driver who was crawling along the roadside, getting honked at and I’m sure receiving various unpleasant gestures, and had him pull in to the parking lot.  I sent poor Merelyn with this inconsolable, and incomprehensible,  man who would not stop insisting that the park did not exist.  As they left, I pulled the kayaks the rest of the way up the hill, into the shade, and crawled in to one (hammock style) to take a nap.

LESSON FIVE:

It’s all about attitude.  Even in some of the most stressful and crazy situations, laughter and calm sets everyone at ease.  Life is too serious to take seriously.  When things start to go wrong, they can be made worse by arguing, complaining and fighting with others about the situation.  Or, when things turn for the worse, you can accept it, go with the flow, have a sense of humor and unite to meet the challenge head on.  Cooler heads prevail.

Some time later, Merelyn arrived in her car.  She had brought food (hers was already consumed, I’m sure within seconds of it being passed through the drive-thru window).  She filled me in on the antics of the poor, distressed cab driver who clearly had signed on for more than he could handle that evening.  He really could not let go of the fact that the park address did not exist…it could also be that the address issue was the only thing Merelyn could understand between his thick accent, propensity for leaning on the horn and apparent inability to navigate traffic.

We loaded up our gear and strapped the kayaks to the top of the car again and headed home.  We ended the day sunburned, tired and hungry but we laughed all the way home (mostly at the cabby).  It was an adventure and, like all good adventures, it was more than we had bargained for.  In the end, we had a fun day together and a story to tell.  What else really matters?