“I Don’t Even Know You!”

Time flies, huh?! Autumn is nearly upon us, and all I can say is, it’s about damn time. This hot, dry, smoky summer has been one for the ages, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Rarely have I looked forward to the change in seasons more. Our poor Columbia River Gorge has been bruised and battered by wildfires, and the much-needed rain that is expected to begin this afternoon and last, on and off, for the next five days will bring welcome relief. Even people who normally love summer have been praying for rain. Last night we saw Fleet Foxes play a concert at McMenamin’s Edgefield, an outdoor venue east of Portland that is literally on the edge of the fire zone. The air was thick with smoke and light ash fell continuously through the performance, making it a miserable evening to be outside. In fact, they moved the scheduled start time of the show up half an hour to compensate for the terrible conditions. When lead singer Robin Pecknold said, “Enjoy the rain tomorrow, Portland!” wild cheers erupted from the crowd.

We will, Robin. Yes indeed.

Robin Pecknold joked about “playing a concert in a forest fire” but really, he wasn’t far from the truth!

Tara and I were calling yesterday our “last summer fling.” We spent basically the entire day at Edgefield, starting out with a 12:30 showing of It in the Power Station Theater. I love seeing movies at McMenamin’s because you can eat and drink in the theater. Clowns are much less scary when you’re wolfing down Cajun tots and drinking Bloody Marys, it should be noted. Oddly enough, even though I’m a huge Stephen King fan, It is one of the few books of his I had never read. I liked the film; it was well cast and suspenseful. Looking forward to Chapter Two!

After the movie we wandered over to one of the many onsite pubs there and grabbed a couple of cocktails before meeting up with our friend Kara, who also had tickets for the show. The concert, by the way, was great! I’ve long been a fan of Fleet Foxes and was thrilled when they came out with a new album and accompanying tour this year, after a long hiatus.

Because they started the concert early, we were home by 9:00, which was pretty nice. We were ready to be out of the smoke and ash by then anyway.

Hard to believe it’s been a week since our trip to the Oregon coast with Tara’s family. Her dad, sisters, and assorted significant others (and even a baby!) all made the trek from Nevada to belatedly celebrate Tara’s 40th birthday at a gorgeous beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Lincoln City. We had a great time catching up, though I realized on Saturday night while playing a spirited game of Cards Against Humanity that I don’t really know my wife. Ha. If you’ve never played CAH, let’s just say “risque” is an understatement and certain underlying truths seep a little close to the surface. Actually, it was a blast, and not nearly as uncomfortable as you might imagine.

Sunset Friday night from the deck of our beach house.

Earlier that day everybody else chartered a fishing boat and caught a ton of ling cod, rock cod, and cabezon – plus three dozen Dungeness crab! We feasted that night, lemme tell ya. (We are still feasting, actually. Crab is on the menu tonight. It’s a rough life, folks.) While they went fishing I opted to go for a hike instead, as I’d wanted to tackle God’s Thumb. It’s an eroding basalt cliff overlooking the ocean with a curvy shape that actually does resemble a thumb. Not a difficult hike – about 1.5 miles to get there, but it’s very lightly trafficked and pretty steep at the end. If you have a fear of heights, don’t do it! Wait a minute. I have a fear of heights. New rule: if you have a fear of heights, suck it up and do it anyway. The 360-degree panoramic view from the top is nothing short of breathtaking!

Maggie and Israel showing off just one of the 36 Dungeness crab they brought back.

The worst part about the hike was all the damn mosquitoes in the forest, but I was covered up pretty well and only ended up with one bite. Other than one friendly older couple on the trail right at the beginning, I had the entire hike to myself. The final trek across the ridgeline was a bit scary, but I made it a point to not look down, and when I reached the peak without dying I was thankful I’d done it. Gazing out over the Pacific Ocean, I couldn’t help but feel introspective. I thought about all the times I have visited the Oregon coast over the years, through different stages of my life; how I have felt the sand between my toes during moments of sheer bliss and felt waves lapping at my ankles through times of dark despair, the only constant being the push and pull of the tides. But I gave myself a pat on the back because life is pretty damn good right now. I don’t think I could be any happier.

God’s Thumb. I had to walk across that narrow ridgeline to get there. PS: totally worth it!

It was also a touch melancholic because it’s very likely our trips to the coast will be coming to an end soon, but I am excited for a new adventure just around the corner. It’s been a good run, as they say, but it may be time to move on. More about that in a sec.

A lot harder than it looks – trust me!

Sunday Tara’s family went to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, but we opted to stay behind and spend a relaxing day at the house. Took a dip in the hot tub, listened to music, caught up on some reading. We all walked down to the beach later and Maggie and Israel flew a kite. They gave me a few turns with it, but I was only ever able to crash the kite. It was a complicated dual-line model that required two hands and apparently a whole lot more finesse than I have. I guess my dreams of becoming a professional kite pilot will never come to fruition. Damn.

Monday – Labor Day – we all parted ways. Tara and I were back home around 3:30, and back to work the next day. All in all, it was a great trip and everybody had a blast.

I guess that pretty much gets you all caught up. I’d talk about work, but DEB IS A TRAITOR so we’ll just leave it at that. (Just kidding there, Deborah.)

Our trip to Rapid City is now less than three weeks away, and we are super excited! I haven’t talked about our potential move much because it upsets certain parental figures and nothing is set in stone anyway, but let’s just say I am adopting a midwest attitude in preparation now. Which means I’m eating a lot of corn, acting super friendly toward everybody, and even – damn it, this is embarrassing! – listening to a little country music now and then.

I guess I don’t even know me, either!

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Where There’s Smoke, There’s Idiots

5:30 Sunday morning we were lying in bed, awake, because…well, we’re freaks, I guess. There’s no other logical explanation.

In any case, our alarm was set for 6:00 a.m. anyway (see? Freaks!), so when Tara said, “Want to drive out to Cape Horn to catch the sunrise?” I did not resist as much as I might otherwise have. We were headed out in that direction anyway, planning a hike at Beacon Rock, so I figured we might as well. Tara had been wanting to catch a sunrise out that way for years, and this was the perfect opportunity.

It was still darkish when we left home, headed east into the Columbia River Gorge after a quick stop at McDonald’s for a bite to eat. Say what you will about them, but I do love me a good Egg McMuffin. I rarely go there, and when I do it’s only for a quick breakfast, and that breakfast always consists of an Egg McMuffin. I feel it’s the one thing they do really well.

But I digress.

We got to the Cape Horn overlook right around sunrise – 6:35 a.m. And saw nothing but thick smoke from the Eagle Creek wildfire. Side note: Eagle Creek had been our original destination. It’s the most popular hiking trail in the Gorge, and for good reason: the scenery is stunning, all forested canyons and waterfalls, and the trail is mostly level. I was last there in May and slogged through a wet but spectacularly scenic hike.

Well, sadly, some asshole hiker decided to play with fireworks on Saturday afternoon and started a brush fire that stranded 153 hikers overnight! They were brought to safety Sunday morning, but by then the fire had grown to 3,000 acres and is now threatening the entire town of Cascade Locks. I am so pissed at these idiots…and heartbroken. Very afraid to see what the trail looks like after the fire is eventually contained, which is sure to take a while given the continued hot, dry weather and windy conditions that are expected to develop. And to think we were this close to going hiking there that very day. We only changed our minds because the weather was supposed to be a couple of degrees less hot (I can’t even say “cooler” because we’re talking 94 versus 98), and then of course by the time we were ready to go hiking the whole place was up in flames. It’s amazing to me how fickle fate is, and how your life can turn on a dime. Granted, we’d have gotten there early in the morning and the fire didn’t begin until 4:00 p.m., but what if the other hiker had set out earlier? What if we’d stayed longer? You just never realize how close you come to catastrophe sometimes, I suppose.

Anyway, when the sun climbed above the horizon, we began to spot it through the smoke. And suddenly, it was glowing a beautiful shade of red. These photos are completely unedited; I just pointed my trusty Nikon eastward and pressed the shutter button.

After killing a good half hour watching the sun and snapping a million pics, we continued on to Beacon Rock State Park, where we ended up doing a couple of short hikes: 2.1 miles to a pair of waterfalls, and then another 1.2 miles to the top of Beacon Rock and back down. There were some pretty breathtaking vistas along the way that afforded us views of all the smoke.

Nothing super strenuous, but it was uncomfortable breathing in all that smoke, and after a while we noticed sprinkles of ash drifting down on us. So we headed back home, our mission accomplished.

Ash on Tara’s truck.

Our mission, I should point out, was banking calories for The Bite of Oregon, our favorite local festival in Portland. We go every year, and always try to do a hike in the morning so we can splurge guilt-free in the evening. This year they changed it up quite a bit; it’s normally held at Tom McCall Waterfront Park the second weekend in August, but they pushed it back to Labor Day weekend in 2017 and moved it to the Rose Quarter, which is a lot more…concrete-y, for lack of a better word. I suspect they decided on a later date in order to beat the heat, which backfired because it was in the mid-90s and hot as blazes anyway. That always seems to be the case, and is the reason why we hold off until the evening to head over there. We left home about 6:00, drove to the Parkrose MAX station, grabbed a light rail train, and were deposited in front of the Rose Quarter 30 minutes later.

The moment we walked in, we could tell the vibe was different. Instead of its nice location alongside the Willamette River, the more urbanized setting suffered from a funky, disjointed layout. There were fewer vendors, and those that were there didn’t compare to some of the “regulars” we’d become accustomed to over the years. The chef’s bounty tables were history, the wine and beer gardens were maybe half the size, and crowds were sparse. Even the 80s cover band playing on stage kind of sucked. I hate to say it, but they ruined The Bite. If there’s some weird silver lining to look at, hey – at least it’s one less thing to miss should we decide to move. We still grabbed some food, because we were starving after all, but hightailed it out of there in less than an hour. Normally we linger for several.

We got home and parked ourselves on the back deck, listening to music, even though it was still warm. And then I got an overpowering urge to drive east, into the Gorge, to look at the fire up close. We debated this for a few minutes – it was late at night, a 40-minute drive, we didn’t want to be gawkers – but in the end, curiosity and a desire to capture some really cool pics won out. I guess I’m a photographer at heart, albeit an amateur one. Besides, Tara pointed out that it was a warm summer night; we could put the moonroof down, listen to some tunes, and witness something up close that few people ever get a chance to see.

That was good enough for me.

Driving over twisty two-lane mountain roads in darkness so thick you need a constant hand on your high beams is not for the faint of heart, but 30 miles to the east we came upon the fire, which was raging out of control across the river. The flames were encroaching upon Bonneville Dam, adjacent to Cascade Locks.

Flames from the Eagle Creek fire in the hills behind Bonneville Dam.

It was a sad and surreal sight, and we joined throngs of onlookers who had pulled over to gaze in wonder and take pictures of their own. It looked like we were in Hell.

We didn’t get back home until 12:30, but man, it was worth the long drive and late night.

I’m beyond saddened by all this. At least they’ve identified the suspect who started it. Wonder of wonders, it’s a teenage boy. I never would’ve guessed that.

We’re planning a much lower-key Labor Day. For starters, I’m pretty sure I hear a Bloody Mary calling my name. Then we’re headed to my parents’ house for dinner this evening.

Hope y’all have a good holiday, and hats off to the brave men and women fighting this devastating fire in the Gorge.

Bloomington Because of Monday

Is planning a vacation seven years in advance overdoing it? I hope not, because I’ve already got my sights set on a future road trip. My destination? Bloomington, Indiana. April 8, 2024.

If you’re wondering why Bloomington, it’s because of Monday. Not to sound overly dramatic, but that day turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life.

Let’s just chalk it up to eclipse fever.

I’ve always had an interest in astronomy. As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut – though I’m not sure I wanted to fly around in a spaceship so much as drink a lot of Tang. One of my first-ever college electives was an astronomy class. I quickly dropped it because, holy shit, who knew so much math was involved?! I just wanted to look at stars and maybe learn the names of a few constellations other than the Big Dipper. I guess the intricate math shouldn’t have been such a surprise. It’s pretty amazing that scientists know, down to the second, what time an eclipse will occur 100 years in the future. Half the time, I can’t even remember to turn the oven off after baking something.

Lame.

So as August 21 approached, my excitement grew exponentially. My mom picked up eclipse glasses for us about a month ago, and I remember thinking, thanks…are we actually going to need these? I knew we were missing out on the path of totality, but did not realize we would still get to experience 99% coverage in Vancouver, WA. Which, it turns out, is still pretty incredible.

I was actually getting annoyed with a few Facebook friends who were rather blasé over the whole thing. I don’t understand how anybody can brush it off as “not a big deal” considering an eclipse is something that occurs very rarely. I mean, this was the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years. How is that not a huge deal?! Woodrow Wilson was in office and automobiles were still a novelty, but hey, to each their own, I guess. I do appreciate that some of these less-than-enthusiastic people admitted to being surprised by how much they enjoyed the event, so in the overall scheme of things, it’s all water under the bridge.

I was so jazzed I was having vivid eclipse dreams the night before. And when I woke up a few minutes after 5:00 I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t, so I got up, showered, made coffee, and fired up the laptop to do some work from home. I knew I was going to be away from my computer for a couple of hours and didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities. Not that this was an issue; my boss told me later there was no need to be working at 6 a.m.; he’s happy as long as I get my work done, which I appreciated.

I headed out the door a few minutes after 9:00, just as the eclipse was getting started. I decided to walk to the park near my apartment complex. When I arrived, people were already set up in chairs and on blankets, some of them with cameras and tripods. Not a lot of people; there were maybe a few dozen folks total, which was perfect as I didn’t feel like dealing with large crowds. I slipped my eclipse glasses on, glanced up at the sun…

…and was blown away.

There was only a small sliver missing, but even that was impressive. I had never seen a crescent-shaped sun in my life before, at least not in person! It only got better over the next hour, as the moon steadily ate away at the sun, bite by bite. It was the first time the moon actually looked three-dimensional, I realized. Like an elementary school science project – just this big round ball in front of the sun.

Totally trippy.

I actually managed to take a couple of halfway decent photos with my Android phone, using the eclipse glasses as a makeshift filter. I mean, they’re not great – they wouldn’t even rank in the top 1,000 best eclipse photos – but so what. The real treat was seeing this in person.

Why is there a banana in the sky?!

About 20 minutes before the peak of the eclipse, it grew noticeably colder. I read afterwards that some areas experienced as much as a 15-degree temperature drop. That’s when the light took on a very strange quality. It never got completely dark, but was comparable to dusk, in a washed-out sort of way. Weird, because the trees were casting typical mid-morning shadows, but they were dull. The best way to describe it? Like the sky was a sponge, and somebody squeezed most – but not all – of the water (in this case, light) out of it. I became aware of the birds in the trees chirping, and even managed to spot a couple of stars in the sky. My arms were covered in goosebumps, and that was only partly due to the sudden chill in the air. The whole event was mesmerizingly surreal, seeing just a tiny sliver of the sun like that. A truly awe-inspiring experience. And all I could think when it ended was, I want MORE!

That’s where Bloomington comes in. It’ll be in the path of totality on April 8, 2024.

I mean, there are plenty of other places we could go. Like Austin, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, or Rochester. But I’ve actually been to Bloomington, and found it to be a nice, quiet little town with lots of cornfields, fireflies, and a really good Mexican restaurant. It should be a lot less crowded than those other cities, and depending on where we are living at the time, might not be all that far away.

Time to start planning!

Path of Partiality

24 hours to go until the Great Eclipse, and I’m pretty excited!

I’ve read some people grumbling about the hype and how they’re sick and tired of hearing about it, but I figure this is essentially a once-in-a-lifetime experience and will be one of the coolest things I’ll ever witness. I am all in. We are just missing out on totality, but Portland will experience a 99% blackout, which should still be plenty exciting. I’d be tempted to drive an hour to the south in order to experience the path of totality if the local media hadn’t been hyping THE MOTHER OF ALL TRAFFIC JAMS for the past two months. There’s another total solar eclipse coming in 2024, but unless you’re situated in a line somewhere between Texas and Ohio, you’re SOL. And then in 2045 another one looks to pass right over (or near) Ely, Nevada. I’ve already told Tara we’ll have to trek out there for that one. We’ll be old and retired and probably living in an RV somewhere anyway.

Then again, Trump will probably get us all killed long before then, so it may be a moot point.

21stCenturyNorthAmericanEclipses

HR sent out an email last week telling us to bring our laptops home and use our best judgment in deciding whether to come into the office on Monday due to the anticipated epic traffic jams that might or might not clog the roads, since being stranded on a freeway wreaks havoc on productivity. So does watching an eclipse, I suppose, but it’ll be over in less than two hours. I am letting my team work from home and emailed my boss asking if I could do the same, or at least come in midday. I plan to get an early start on work, like 6:00 a.m. or thereabouts, then break for the eclipse.

Because photography is a big hobby of mine, I wanted to take some eclipse shots. Sadly, it is impossible to find solar filters anywhere online. That’s what you get for waiting until the last minute! I’d rather not damage my Nikon by pointing it directly at the sun, so I am fine with just taking photos of some of the eclipse-related phenomena, like crescent-shaped leaf shadows on the ground, and then when The Moment arrives simply experiencing it. I’m not expecting some life-altering spiritual awakening the moment the moon blots out the sun, but it’ll still be pretty bitchin’.

And it looks like our weather will cooperate. Thank god. That’s always a crapshoot around here. For once, I’m glad there are no clouds predicted.


Annie and Anthony drove down from Tacoma yesterday to hang out with us for the day. This is actually the first time they’ve ever done that, and we had a nice visit. Anthony is 5 y/o and will be starting kindergarten in just a few weeks, so this was sort of a last summer hurrah for him.

They arrived shortly after 9:00 and pounded on the wrong door for five minutes before realizing their mistake. I assume the residents were either heavy sleepers or not home. Eventually they figured out which apartment was ours and came on over. Annie had left Tacoma early because she really, really wanted one of Tara’s should-be-famous Bloody Marys. The wifey did not disappoint. We drank those and visited for awhile, then headed into downtown Vancouver to walk around the farmers market. I forgot how much a five-year old slows you down. It didn’t help that Anthony insisted on stopping and petting every single dog he passed, lol. Fortunately he has been taught to ask permission first. At one point we stopped while Anthony got his arm painted by a clown, who then spent five minutes intricately weaving together a balloon octopus. It took all of three seconds for one of the balloons to pop, leaving him with a seven-armed octopus. Two more bit the dust by the time we got back to the car, but he didn’t seem too frazzled by any of that.

After the market we grabbed lunch at McMenamin’s, then came back to the apartment, listened to records, played video games and chatted. Anthony is a budding metalhead (yay!) so Metallica was spinning on the turntable. By the time they left around 5:00, my arms and shoulder were aching, no surprise given how energetic and hyper Anthony was. At one point he climbed on my back and insisted on a “horsey-ride.” I obliged him, of course, but damn – I’m getting too old for that. I paid for it the rest of the evening and had to take an Advil PM before bed. I do feel much better this morning.

Tara and I had planned on heading into Portland afterwards to walk around and do a little exploring, but we decided to chill out at home instead. We watched AGT (I love the little girl ventriloquist/singer/comedienne) and followed that up with Moulin Rouge, a movie I hadn’t seen in over a decade. It was Tara’s first time, as a matter of fact. I know: what?! I was worried it might not hold up or be as good as I remembered, but my fears were unfounded. Tara really enjoyed it, too. We ended up eating leftovers at 9:00 p.m. and hit the hay around 11.

All in all, a pretty good day.

Hope you all get a chance to experience tomorrow’s eclipse! And remember to wear your ISO-approved eclipse glasses at all times or you’ll burn an eye out, kid.

Hold the Ice

Do you think it’s rude (or weird) to order iced tea, but ask them to “hold the ice”?

This was the dilemma I encountered last week. I ordered an iced tea from the coffee shop around the corner, but they ended up adding so much ice I only got a few sips of tea. So I debated ordering it sans ice the next time I went, posing this question on Facebook because I didn’t want to walk in there looking like an idiot.

The overall consensus was, I’m the paying customer and am, therefore, entitled to iced tea just the way I want it. Most of my friends thought it would be perfectly acceptable to ask for no ice or light ice. It’s no worse than Tara ordering a Beef ‘n Cheddar from Arby’s and asking them to hold the cheddar. (She likes the toasted onion roll). Armed with the confidence instilled in me by a social media majority, I stopped in Friday afternoon and placed my order. And they never even batted an eye. In retrospect, this was yet another situation in which I was guilty of overthinking things.

Shocking, right? That never happens.

This does beg the question, though: if you order iced tea without ice, isn’t it technically just tea? And if you ask for tea, won’t they assume you want it hot? Should I ask for cold tea instead? What should I say?!

Man, the world is too complicated nowadays. And I am overthinking things again.


The reason I was so fixated on iced tea last week was because our high temperatures were hovering right around 185 degrees. OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but it was still hot. 103 on Wednesday and 105 on Thursday. 90s the rest of the week. Adding insult to injury, the air was thick with smoke from wildfires burning in British Columbia. It was just awful, ugly, and uncomfortable weather. Summer at its worst. Our only saving grace was a lack of humidity.

It was so hot, the weekly farmer’s market shut down. Now I am out of berries and that is just unacceptable.

Not so long ago, people were whining about the rain and the cold and the fact that winter seemingly would never end. Man, what I’d give for a little snow right about now! Hell, I’d settle for a temperature cooler than 80 degrees. But the forecast for this week doesn’t look promising, unless you’re a fan of hot, hazy weather.

In which case, you’re probably downright ecstatic.


So, we’ve been teaching Audrey to drive.

Our lessons must have paid off, because we’d enrolled her in a summer driving course and she passed with flying colors on Thursday. Now, she just has to hand the DMV a piece of paper with her passing score, and she can get her driver’s license. In Washington, you have to wait six months from the time you receive your permit, so she can’t get it until October 22nd. Not that anybody is going to forget the date, given that she’s got it circled in bold on every calendar hanging up within a three-mile radius.

Actually, I don’t know how much credit we can actually take. Most lessons consisted of me sitting in the passenger seat while she practiced driving in circles around empty parking lots. I did make lots of hand gestures in the air in which I pantomimed turning a steering wheel, and occasionally pressed down on a nonexistent brake pedal out of habit, but otherwise I was pretty much just along for the ride.

The next big milestone is her high school graduation, a mere 10 months away now.

Damn, I’m old.


Just heard on NPR the other day that Dunkin’ Donuts is opening a new store in Pasadena and dropping the “Donuts” from their name because they want to be known more for their coffee than their doughnuts. If it works out, they are considering changing their name company-wide and simply going by Dunkin’.

Is it just me, or is this a really dumb idea?

Dunkin’ Donuts is an institution. Carving the name in half is almost sacrilege.

Then again, I’m still mad that Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to KFC, and that happened 26 years ago. Besides, if history is any indication, this could all backfire on Dunkin’ Donuts. When Kentucky Fried Chicken morphed into KFC in 1991, rumors started flying that they were forced to change their name because they were using genetically modified chicken and could not, therefore, advertise it as chicken. Which is false, but I’m sure there are people who actually believe that, just as there are folks who think the moon landing was staged, there was a second gunman on the grassy knoll, and Courtney killed Kurt.

Only one of those things is true, of course.

Tube Close for Comfort

Camping: it’s not for the faint of heart. The funny thing is, I always figured it would be a bear that posed the greatest danger to my well-being. Turns out it was the (not-so) mighty Wenatchee River that done near did us in.

But as with any story, you gotta save the good stuff for the end. So hold on tight.

It’s been a nice, long weekend. Four days for me and Tara, ’cause we took Thursday and Friday off for a camping trip up north. Like, real far up north. Leavenworth, WA, about a five-hour jaunt from here. Why travel so far to go camping, you may be wondering.

Well, because. When your campsite looks like this:

And is situated yards away from this:

You drive five hours to go camping.

Sure enough, our spot was damn near ideal. Surrounded by dramatic granite cliffs, a few steps from the gently rushing Icicle Creek, Eight Mile Campground was worth the long haul. Our only complaint? Because of the position of the trees, our site was in the sun from about 10 a.m. until the sun dipped behind the mountains to the west, a couple of hours prior to sunset. But we were gone most of the time, so it was pretty much a non-issue.

Oh, we spent our evenings in camp, drinking in the scenery (and the alcohol). We (Tara) cooked steaks and corn on the cob the first night; bratwursts, grilled peppers and onions, and beans the second. We listened to music and watched a (flock? herd? whole bunch of?) brown bats come out at dusk, swooping in over our camp to gobble up meals of their own. When the stars came out they were magnificent; we walked the few steps to our little beach by the creek in the pitch darkness to gaze at them in awe, and were rewarded with several shooting stars streaking across the sky. The weather was warm and dry so there was no need for a rain fly, leaving us able to look up at those same stars through the roof of our tent while listening to the babbling brook when we went to bed.

Heaven, people.

Friday we went for a 3.5-mile hike along the Icicle Gorge trail, marveling over more stunning scenery. Even here, in the “dry” part of the state, the vistas are remarkable.

Yes.

We really do.

Luckily, we’d gotten an early start to our hike, setting out at 8:30 a.m. Because it was warming up pretty quickly along the way, already in the low 80s by the time we got back to camp at noon. It was even hotter in town; Eight Mile was a good 6-7 degrees cooler than Leavenworth, which is – coincidence alert! – exactly eight miles from the campground.

Whoa.

In any case, we weren’t concerned about the heat, because we’d (Tara) come up with a great plan.

A nice, relaxing float in an inner tube down the Wenatchee River sounded like an ideal way to spend a hot and sunny summer afternoon in Leavenworth, WA. After our hike, the idea of hitting the water was especially appealing.

Tara had booked a reservation with a tubing company in Leavenworth. We met up at their office/store downtown at 2:00 and boarded a shuttle, which drove us a few miles upriver. Once there, we were handed waiver forms to sign, releasing the company from all liability should anything go wrong. I barely skimmed most of it – does anybody actually read all that legalese? – but there was one sentence that leaped out at me. “I realize that the risk of serious injury or death is significant,” it read, or something along those lines. I chuckled over that.

We’re on inner tubes, I thought. What could possibly go wrong?

We were given very brief instructions that basically consisted of, “Start here, finish there, and when you reach the island in the middle of the river, stay to the left.” They handed us Frisbees to use as makeshift paddles and then set us free. In retrospect, I think they should have taken a few minutes to go over safety rules and given us the opportunity to ask questions. But alas, it was time for them to go pick up the next group of people.

$$$, don’tcha know?

Tara and I had rented a floating cooler because, you know, when you’re lazily floating down the river in the hot sun, what’s better than a cool, refreshing adult beverage? So Tara tethered her tube to the cooler and we hopped in.

Things went very smoothly for about three minutes. And then, all hell broke loose.

An island appeared in the middle of the river. We assumed this was the one they had instructed us to pass on the left. (Turns out it was not, but how were we to know that?) The current was pulling us to the right, so we started paddling like mad, but it looked like we weren’t going to make it. So my dear wife, concerned that we were going to be dragged into some hidden danger lurking on the right side of the island, a logjam maybe, or a Class 5 rapid, decided to get out of her tube in order to give it a good push in the right direction. This turned out to be a huge mistake, because the current was much swifter than anticipated. Her inner tube and cooler shot away from her and were quickly zipping down the river, unattended. I saw her treading water and tried to paddle in her direction, but she yelled at me to “go after the inner tubes!” instead.

Or maybe she just wanted me to save the beer.

So I started paddling like mad, using those gaily-colored Frisbees like they were oars, to reach the wayward inner tubes, racing along 10 feet ahead of me. Meanwhile I’m concerned about my wife, who is in the middle of the river without a tube or life preserver. But I’m rowing like a madman, and a minute later, I see a metal cylinder bobbing along. A-ha! That’s Tara’s Yeti, an insulated beer can holder she recently bought for $20, a can of Bud Light still nestled inside like an aluminum passenger aboard a tiny ship. I stretched out my hand, plucked it from the water, and deposited it into my tube. That little victory felt momentous at the time, as I’d assumed the Yeti was at the bottom of the river by then.

Next up were the inner tubes. After some more desperate paddling, I somehow managed to snag them. So I’m in my tube, hanging on to two others for dear life, and glance over my shoulder. Tara is rapidly receding into the distance. I turn around, and spot an island in the middle of the river. Was this the one we were supposed to skirt to the left of? I had no clue, but it didn’t matter, as the river was taking me in that direction anyway. Too quickly. I realized suddenly that if I had any chance of salvaging this trip and reuniting with Tara, I would have to land on that island. If I overshot it, I’d be swept down the river who knows how far. My paddling was ineffective, so at this point I made my own bad decision and jumped out of the inner tube, reasoning that the water was shallow enough here for me to walk onto the shore, pushing the tubes and cooler. Well, yes, the water was shallow – but the current was swift as hell and the moss-covered rocks on the bottom of the river were so slippery it was impossible to find my footing. I was immediately knocked off my feet and dragged underwater, and thought to myself – in all seriousness – you are about to drown.

My heart pounded furiously even as I shot to the surface. I struggled like mad to avoid being swept away, terrified at the prospect of being pulled under again, and scrambled over those rocks through chest-deep water as if my life depended upon it. Which it sort of did. Amazingly, I found the strength to make it to shore. And breathed a huge sigh of relief while I tried to steady my nerves.

Thank god we’d brought waterproof pouches for our phones. My Fitbit had taken the plunge, but luckily was none the worse for wear. Not that personal electronic devices mattered in the least in that moment. I looked upstream and found Tara, slowly but steadily making her way toward the island. The water in that section was shoulder-deep, but the current was not bad at all.

Until she reached the channel where I’d lost my footing.

She was in earshot then, so I called out to her to stay put. I figured I’d try to paddle upstream against the current and have her hold on, but she figured it would be easier to get over to the island and thus had little choice but to risk it. Naturally, she was swept off her feet at about the same place as me, and took another dunk. The current was pulling her along, she was partly underwater, and I panicked again, watching helplessly as my wife struggled. She was unable to make it to her feet and I thought, for the second time that afternoon, that somebody was about to drown. I lunged forward, reached out my hand…

…and my fingers closed around hers.

Relief, guys. Huge and overpowering. I was able to pull her to shore.

I fucking saved her life.

She might say I’m being overdramatic, but I don’t think I am. People drown all the time. You hear stories on the news every summer. This very easily could have turned disastrous for us. I watched her flailing helplessly as the mighty river pulled her along, and I truly believe with 100% certainty that I saved her life.

Rather than collapsing into my arms and thanking me for staving off the Grim Reaper, my dear wife instead reached into the cooler, grabbed a can of Bud Light, popped it open and started guzzling it.

“You almost drowned, and you’re drinking a beer?!” I asked incredulously.

“I’m thirsty,” she said with a shrug.

And really, that’s why I love her. All the tension dissipated in that instant. After allowing ourselves a few minutes to regain our composure, we set our tubes back into the river (tethering all three together this time) and climbed aboard.

“We don’t get out for anything the rest of the trip,” she said, and I nodded my head in agreement. There are some things you don’t need to be told twice about.

An hour later we reached our departure point, without further incident. And best of all, alive. Once we got over the shock of almost dying, it was actually rather peaceful.

Would I do it again? I suppose so…but you can bet your ass I will never, ever leave the safety of my tube next time.

 

Bear With Me

Hey, remember that longtime fear I’ve had about getting eaten by a bear? I knew I was right to worry. (If you don’t click on the link, I listed a bunch of random facts about myself. #2 was, “I’m sort of afraid I’m going to be eaten by a bear one of these days.”). Because that exact thing almost came to fruition yesterday.

Well.

I guess that depends on your definition of “almost.”

If “almost” means we were parked on the side of the road with a crowd of people, looking down into a meadow where a black bear was meandering about, a couple of thousand yards away, then yeah. Almost.

Regardless of the spacious safety net known as distance separating us, this was still closer than I’ve ever come to a bear in the wild before. (I hope. If not, ignorance is bliss.) And just between you and me, I don’t need to ever be any closer to a bear than a few thousand yards. Unless a cage separates us.

The bear had better be the one in the cage, by the way.

So, yeah. Had my first wild bear sighting. Tara and I had driven up to Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a good 2.5 hours from home, so we hit the road early, leaving at 7:20. Only twenty minutes behind schedule this time. Hey, we’re gettin’ better! And it’s a good thing we left when we did, because by the time we arrived at the Paradise Visitor’s Center shortly after 10 a.m., the parking lot was already full. But we were easily able to nab a spot on the shoulder (by the time we left that afternoon, the line of cars parked on the shoulder snaked down the road a good half-mile). But crowds and Rainier go hand in hand. Any place that has so much natural beauty, people are going to want to see.

Selfish bastards.

We did a bit of hiking – I had every intention of completing the Skyline Trail Loop but was thwarted by a slickly dangerous patch of snow and ice clinging to the trail (which was on a rather steep slope at this particular juncture) so I turned around at that point and made it an in-and-out. Which was fine, as it was about the halfway point anyway. I mean…wouldn’t you?

The rocky portion at the bottom was off-limits, and those rangers in the pic were making sure nobody trampled over that section, where wildflowers are supposed to bloom.

In any case, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything scenery-wise.

After the hike, we got in the car and drove around the park (stopping along the way for the bear photo-op). We pulled over in one spot for a picnic lunch, where Tara tried to teach me the proper cherry pit spitting technique and pointed out a woman whose ass had eaten her shorts.

Don’t ask.

We finally got back home at 6:07, and had a relaxing evening. Ate pizza. And rice balls. And popcorn. And blueberries. And, what a weird combination that is…

Today I gave Audrey a driving lesson, then the three of us went out to lunch. (Yes, she’s driving now. Or learning to. But that’s a different post altogether.)

We’ve got a short week coming up. Tara and I took Thursday and Friday off to head north for some camping. Like, far north. 5 hours north north. But the campground’s in a canyon outside Leavenworth, WA and we’ve got a great spot right next to a river, so I’m confident it will be totally worth the drive. We’ll have a great time relaxing and recreating. Feels like forever since we’ve gone camping.

Hopefully there won’t be any more close encounters with bears…

A Pain in the Arsenal

We were hanging out at McMenamin’s on the Columbia a few days ago, enjoying a late lunch with Tara’s friend Betsy before dropping her off at the airport, when Tara discovered a French fry mixed in with her tater tots. I immediately pounced on this and declared it the best thing ever! before practically inhaling it. Err…sorry if you wanted it, babe. I just love when you order something like tots or onion rings and find an accidental fry hidden in there. It’s such an unexpected bonus! I equate it with the feeling you get from a winning scratch-off lottery ticket or a bonus scene tucked in at the end of a movie after the credits have rolled. Invariably, that unexpected French fry tastes far better than a whole platter of fries would if you’d ordered them instead.

Never underestimate the allure of surprise, folks.

Betsy, who lives in Las Vegas, came up for a visit Friday night and stayed through Tuesday afternoon. We had a blast showing off our favorite sights and, in fact, dragged her all over the place: downtown Portland on Saturday, a waterfall hike on Sunday, a girl’s trip to the Oregon coast Sunday night-Monday. She even got to meet my parents when we had them over for dinner on Monday night. Much fun was had during her visit (and much alcohol was consumed – there is a correlation between the two). Good times, good times.

The 4th of July itself was quiet, a sentence I have never once written in 23 years of living here.

Vancouver, WA has always resembled a war zone this time of year. Evidence of the upcoming assault first came in mid-June, when large canvas tents sprang up like weeds everywhere, taking over parking lots and grassy fields across town. Soon, boxes of fireworks of all shapes and sizes filled the tents. They were legal for the week leading up to the 4th, and the day after, and we’re not just talking sparklers. You could buy mortars and rockets that rivaled anything you’d find at professional fireworks shows. When the kids were little and we owned a house, I’d shell out (pun intended) at least $100 every year on fireworks. We would then set them off in front of our house, joined by our neighbors. The whole thing turned into quite the free-for-all as everybody on the block got in on the action, turning Independence Day into a bona fide Event. My ex’s family even made the pilgrimage up from California for a couple of years to take part in the festivities.

Fireworks over Vancouver, WA.

As time went on though, it started to feel like a drag. With so many of our neighbors contributing their own personal arsenals, those fireworks shows would go on well past midnight. Cleanup afterwards was a real bitch, and there were a couple of close calls, incidents that could have resulted in a loss of limbs or a house fire. No matter how responsible we were, there was always an errant gust of wind or a defective fuse to worry about. I’m kinda surprised we made it through those years without even a minor injury to contend with.

Citywide, residents complained constantly. The noise was excessive, people were reckless, dogs spooked by the noise ran away from home, and fires occurred. So gradually Vancouver scaled back their ordinance. Instead of the fireworks being legal for a full week, they cut it down to three days, then two. Last year they were allowed on the 4th of July only. And this year, a complete citywide ban on all fireworks went into effect. While there were some scofflaws risking the $500 fine, it was nothing at all like in years past. It was so quiet, in fact, I almost forgot it was a holiday. I don’t mean to sound like the grumpy old man who yells at kids to get off his lawn, but the whole thing is a relief. I much prefer the peace and quiet to the weeklong chaos that was the norm for so many years. Plus, I’m $100 richer now. Go, me.

Hope you had an equally peaceful 4th!

Wanderlust In Our Blood

I want to start off by saying that I love the Pacific Northwest. This should be obvious to anybody who has ever read my blog. It’s been my home for almost 23 years now, and I always figured I’d spend the rest of my life here. I probably will.

But maybe I won’t.

When I short-sold my townhouse in 2014, our plan was to spend two years in an apartment and then buy a house. It’s been over three years now and we’re still here, not really any closer to our goal. Part of the reason is, we are waiting for Audrey to graduate from high school. She’s got a year to go, and after that, we figured we’d buy a place in Stevenson. But S-town (not that S-town, podcast fans) is small, and there aren’t a lot of houses for sale. We’ve been paying close attention to the real estate market. And by “we” I mean Tara, but it’s all semantics.

Tara’s got a Zillow addiction, and is constantly sending me listings. Because it’s slim pickings in Stevenson, she’s been focusing on Vancouver, where we live now. That would be okay if we could find the perfect place. And last Thursday, we thought we had. Until we crunched the numbers. Every week, it seems, prices are creeping up. We are in danger of being priced out of the market, especially if we can’t realistically buy anything until next summer.

So, in a moment of inspiration on Friday, I turned the tables on Tara and sent her a Zillow listing. The house was a gorgeous three-bedroom, two-bath split level ranch, 1680 square feet, with a covered deck and spacious backyard. And at only $189K, it was a steal.

It also happens to be located in Rapid City, South Dakota. 

I guess I was sort of half-kidding when I sent her the listing, but: not really. I have long had a fondness for Rapid City. After all, I lived there for three years in the mid-80s. Three formative high school years, I might add. And when I visited again six years ago this month during my solo road trip, I was so enamored  that I switched up my itinerary and stayed an extra day. In looking back through those old posts, I stumbled upon these eye-opening passages.

I was quite surprised to find a little slice of Portland in Rapid City: quaint coffee shops, a used bookstore, and this cool alleyway I stumbled upon that was decorated all over with graffiti and murals. I strolled through there, taking plenty of pics. Love it! I am enraptured by this place all over again, and want to enjoy every last drop of it while I can.

This is definitely a land of fierce extremes, and it can be very punishing if you aren’t prepared for it. But the magnificent beauty and abundance of natural attractions makes it worthwhile. I’ve often wondered if I could ever picture myself living in Rapid City again, and the verdict is in: yes, I could. I wouldn’t rule it out if the circumstances were exactly right.

There are definite pros and cons to living there. The weather can be punishing (though it’s also right up my alley) and the Pacific Ocean is a lot farther than a mere 100 minutes away. And Rapid City isn’t exactly a destination for most touring musicians. But houses comparable to what we’re looking at here are at least $100K less. The Black Hills offer plenty of opportunities for hiking, camping, and fishing. The population – 72K – is close to ideal (big enough for the essentials, small enough that gridlock is not a problem). There’s a surprisingly robust local food scene. And Denver is a mere 5 hours and 56 minutes away by car, so we could see a lot more Broncos games.

Downtown Rapid City from Skyline Drive.

As for work…I can do my job from anywhere. All I need is a laptop and an internet connection. I have no idea if my company would even entertain that option, but we’ve been hiring a slew of remote employees lately, so you never know. I feel like it’s at least a possibility.

Surprisingly, Tara was more receptive to the idea than I’d expected. We both just want the best life we can live, and if that means pulling up roots and starting fresh somewhere else, we’re open to the idea. It helps that we both moved around a lot growing up. Wanderlust is in our blood, I suppose.

When I left the Bay Area for Portland in 1994, those were the most exciting days of my life. Everything was new, and the sense of discovery was like a drug. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to experience that all over again, this time with Tara by my side.

I’m not saying this is going to happen. It still seems like a pretty farfetched idea. But we are now planning a long weekend so Tara can see the place (she’s never been) and we can get a feel for the neighborhoods and downtown. Rapid City is an 18-hour drive from here, which isn’t too bad. We’re tentatively looking at early October – specifically, Columbus Day weekend. The weather that time of year should be perfect (though, this being South Dakota, there’s always the possibility of a little snow).

Gotta do what you gotta do, yo.

Funbelievable

It’s been a pretty decent weekend. Friday evening we finally got to sit out on the deck, where we played cards, drank stuff with booze in it, and listened to records. These are our go-to Friday nights, though they usually happen indoors around the dining room table because it’s rare that the weather is just right. So we were thankful for “just right” this time.

“Just right” is going to morph into 90+ degrees tomorrow, so no deck time for us on Monday.

Friday on my lunch hour I took a walk through the woods and came armed with my Nikon in order to take photos of the Camas lilies, which a week earlier had been abundant. I’d taken a few photos with my phone, but they didn’t turn out great, so this time I was prepared. Unfortunately, there were significantly fewer lilies in bloom this time around, and those that I did see were getting past their prime. When it comes to wildflowers, you need to act quickly. Still, I managed a few decent shots, like this one.

Camas lilies.

It’s National Wildflower Week, btw, so get out there and enjoy.

Saturday we were finally able to plant in our community garden plot. This is the second year we’ve done it, and we are a solid month behind where we were in 2016 thanks to a long, cool, wet spring. Partly because of this, and partly because there’s only so much you can do with an endless bounty of zucchini, we scaled back this year. Last time Tara showed up with elaborately-diagrammed charts and maps detailing where each and every tomato plant would go; this year we have half as many plants and we basically winged it. (Wung it sounds right, but alas, there is no such word.) We’ve got a small assortment of tomato and pepper plants, some tomatillos, lemon cucumbers, and one zucchini. We’re hoping to find some radishes at the farmer’s market, but other than that, I think we’re good. This will be the last year we rent a community garden plot as we will be gearing up (hopefully) to buy a house next summer. Once we have a yard we’ll be able to plant shit galore right out back. I can’t wait for that.

Later we drove into Portland to find a salsa we fell in love with at the Portland Night Market last weekend. Our local New Seasons doesn’t carry it but the Concordia one did, so we zipped over there, found what we were looking for plus some other things we weren’t specifically seeking out but decided we had to have. Like small-batch apricot tonic and a burnt caramel sea salt chocolate bar and one vanilla bean pod and Moon Cheese. In other words, the essentials. Then it was on to the mall, because my wardrobe of flannel shirts was in need of expansion (“summer’s lease hath all too short a date” as The Bard infamously said, impending 90-degree weather aside) and J.C. Penney had a rack of Arizona brand flannel marked down ridiculously low. They were like $6.91 apiece, or 80% off, so I stocked up. Flannel tends to be my outfit du jour eight months out of the year. After the mall we grabbed Chinese food, came home, and watched “Patriot’s Day.” It was surprisingly tense and well-acted. I wasn’t sure how they were going to make an entire movie about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, but they pulled it off well. Followed by a couple episodes of “The Amazing Race,” which I’ve gotten back into after a long hiatus. SPOILER ALERT! READ NO FURTHER IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THE LATEST EPISODE. My question is this: how am I possibly going to live without my weekly dose of Team Fun? Pretty Funbelievable that they are gone now. Brooke and Scott will probably win the whole thing – just watch.

Today we are planning to hit the farmer’s market in the morning, then I’m going to give the Mazda a little TLC since we’ve got a stretch of nice weather coming up.

Hope your week’s a groovy one.