25 August 2006

Why I'm looking forward to moving to Sweden, vol. 1

The new single from Iron Maiden debuted at #1 on the Swedish music charts.

24 August 2006

A Scanner Darkly

Starting a couple weeks ago, Anne and I began shaping the consumer choices of millions of Americans. About six months ago, a database sequestered in a bunker somewhere in the Midwest deemed our household to be demographically desirable, and we were asked to join a consumer panel for A.C. Nielsen (the same company that does the TV ratings). After a couple-month wait for an open spot on the panel, we were sent a small scanner that we use to record all of our purchases. You know the set top boxes that record what TV shows you watch? This is a lot like that only 1,000x more intrusive.

The scanner is a small, hand-held device with a key pad and an infrared reader at the top. Everything we buy that has a barcode on it (groceries, CD's, camping gear ... anything) gets recorded. Also, many things we buy that don't have one also need to be recorded. For those, we have a 1/2" thick binder full of printed barcodes. For example, if I buy a bag of green beans, I open to the page of vegetables and scan the barcode printed underneath "Beans, green/string." I then enter the weight of the beans and the price per pound. There are also little barcodes to indicate if the beans were loose or bunched, and if they were organic or not.

If this sounds like a pain in the ass, that's because it is. We spend about 20 minutes after every trip to the grocery store scanning in our purchases. And the corner store where we buy most of our produce doesn't have a computerized inventory system, so every item on the receipt is called "Grocery." This creates a bit of a challenge when you have to scan in the weights and costs of each bag of fruits and veggies when you get back home. As for the veggie box we get from the farm, well, the weights and prices we enter for those items are basically a fiction.

Now I don't want to sound too down on the scanner. I do like the fact that our purchases may influence big food companies and grocers to sell more organic food and craft-brewed beer. Also, we earn points for scanning our purchases and transmitting the data back to A.C. Nielsen regularly, and the points can be redeemed for all sorts of stuff from a catalog. (We've got our eyes on the AeroBed.) Of course, if we were paid an hourly wage for our scanning time and then went out and bought the same items in the catalog (and scanned their barcodes, of course), it probably works out to us getting paid about 50 cents and hour, but nevertheless, at least we have something to strive for.

So, if the next time you're standing in the store looking at the beer cooler and wondering why all of the Budweiser has been replaced with Anderson Valley beers, you have us to thank.

22 August 2006


This past weekend, we got one last bit of summer vacation before school starts for Anne and I get ready for my final push of lab work before the lab moves to Sweden at the end of September. We decided to go to Lassen because it was on our list of "things to do in California before we move away," and Anne hadn't been but had been hearing me rave about it for years. My family often stopped there on the way to the Humboldt County coast for summer vacation, but I hadn't been since high school. Throughout our stay, I had periodic flashbacks to previous visits to the park. Even though I'd been there three or four times with my parents, the trip that seemed to stand out the most in my memory was the time I went with my eighth grade science class. In particular I remember Roger and I listening to Devo and Bartok with Mr. Langdon in his car on the ride up, learning how to tell a ponderosa from a Jeffrey pine ("gentle Jeffrey and prickly ponderosa"), and singing "America the Beautiful" Ray Charles-style with Larry from the top of Mt. Lassen.

I played hooky on Friday so we could arrive before the crowds (such as they are -- luckily far, far fewer people go to Lassen than Yosemite, even though it's roughly the same distance from San Francisco). We got there in the early afternoon, which gave us enough time to set up camp and go for a short day hike to the aptly-named Paradise Meadow. The next day, we took a long hike that left from our campground and looped through the backcountry on the east end of the park. The trail visited at least a dozen small lakes, one of which we stopped at for lunch and a swim. We got back to camp just in time to duck into our tent with our post-hike beers as an afternoon thunderstorm passed overhead. The next morning, we packed up early (for us, at least) and headed to the park's two main attractions: Mt. Lassen and Bumpass' Hell. The trail to the top of Mt. Lassen is relatively short because it starts at 8500', just 2000' below the summit. It was pretty hazy from the top, but we could still clearly make out Mt. Shasta to the north as well as the coast range on the far side of the Central Valley. After coming back down from the summit, we ate lunch and then headed to Bumpass' Hell. From the top of Mt. Lassen, there's not much to indicate that it's an active volcano, but Bumpass' Hell is full of gaseous vents and bubbling mud pots that prove this it's still a very geologically active area. Anne had never seen anything like it before, so it was a lot of fun to go there with her. Overall, the trip was a lot of fun. It was really cool going somewhere with Anne that I remember fondly from my childhood and having it live up to all of the hype.

10 August 2006


The last leg of our Washington adventure was six days in Anne's home town of Brewster. It's always nice to go to Brewster because there isn't much to do but swim in the pool and look at the Columbia out the living room window. That sounded nice to us because we were in the mood for a little down time after all that hiking. But before we could get into full relaxation mode, we had company to entertain. The day after we arrived, Sarah and Jason, and their daughters Emi and Mia, as well as Eric and Theresa and their baby Nathaniel, came to visit for a couple days.

The visit with friends was really nice. It was the first time I'd met either Nathaniel or Mia. I'm never quite sure what to do around babies, but at that age they're primarily interested in mom, so I wasn't called upon to do much. I was amazed at how much Emi had grown, and she was very eloquent and a lot more interactive than the when I'd last seen her a year ago. We spent a lot of time hanging out at the house and swimming. We ordered take-out Mexican food one night, and grilled burgers another. Everyone had garden burgers, except for Jason and I, who had real hamburgers made from nearly a pound of ground beef. It was a bit much, but I was still a little protein-deficient, so I savored every bite. We had one adventure into town while the company was there. We went to the Mexican grocery, and were saddened to learn that their baker that made the delicious empanadas had moved to California. We bought some doughnuts in lieu of the empanadas, and I got a tamal, then we strolled up and down the length of main street, briefly stopping at El Campesino clothing store, before we headed to the park. After eating our doughnuts and hanging out on the grass for a while, we were satisfied that we had "done" Brewster so we headed back to the house to swim.

After the company left, we mostly hung out at the house, with the exception of a couple trips to Pateros to go to the bakery. (Notice the critical role that bakeries play in any vacation that Anne and I take.) Anne got roped into going through some boxes in the closet of her old bedroom, and that kept her occupied for much of the rest of our visit. The sorting had the air of a geological expedition as each subsequent box came from an earlier era in Anne's life. While Anne sorted, I kept her company while playing with Legos, playing "God Save the Queen" on the songflute (which is similar to a recorder, but -- if this is possible -- somewhat more shrill), and reading all about the 1986 World's Fair in Vancouver. Do they still have World's Fairs? Most of the contents of the boxes she was able to divert to the yard sale pile, but there were definitely a few keepers amidst all the old class papers, clothes, and drawings. One of the best finds was a sweatshirt that she made while she was in 7th grade. Unfortunately, I couldn't persuade her to model it for my blog, but I assure you that it's beautiful. We had one more outing the last full day we were there because I wanted to go back and get a Mexican wedding shirt I'd spied when we were in El Campesino with our friends. It's a sweet shirt with embroidered pumas on the front and a big embroidered puma on the back. I haven't had a chance to wear it yet, but I can't wait to.

Our trip home was relatively uneventful. I always like the flight from Wenatchee to Seattle because the plane flies relatively low so you get really impressive views of the Cascades. Also, Horizon serves free beer. Back in Oakland, there were some delays on BART, so it actually took us a little longer to get home from the airport than it did to fly from Seattle to Oakland. But we got home eventually, where Lucy was very happy to see us.

We had planned this year's vacation partially with the intention of doing something cheaper than our trip to Brazil last summer. That part definitely worked out well, especially for the three full days on the trail when we didn't spend anything. We also got to spend a lot of time with family and friends, which was a real treat. The backpacking trip was great because it was something we'd wanted to do for a while. Neither of us had been out for that many nights before, so that was a fun challenge. All in all, it was a really nice vacation that served as a good reminder of what a great place Washington is.

Go team go!

Sports analogies in politics are always a shaky proposition. They can alienate voters who aren't sports fans with jargon, and they can also betray the fact that the speaker doesn't know a thing about sports but is trying to speak down to the "everyman." In his concession speech last night, Joe Lieberman somehow managed to do both with one of most strained and awkward sports analogies I've ever heard:
I'’m a sports fan, so I'’m going to use a sports comparison, and as I see it in this campaign, we've just finished the first half and the Lamont team is ahead. But in the second half, our team --— Team Connecticut -- is going to surge forward to victory in November.
Yikes! I like the way he apologizes for the analogy before launching into it by proclaiming himself a sports fan. (Though of which sport isn't clear. It's probably not baseball or hockey. I don't think they have halves in cricket, either. Maybe soccer?) I doubt that leaving the Democratic party and running as an independent is going to be a very effective game plan for your team, Joe, but you're the coach. Perhaps you shouldn't have kissed the president in the preseason.

Update: Imagine my glee when I came home and discovered that toady's Bad Reporter covered the infamous kiss at the State of the Union. Do you think I qualify as an "eagle-eyed liberal blogger?"

09 August 2006

Park Creek to Chelan

Day 4: 5-Mile Camp to Bridge Creek. 7.5 miles
The last full day of hiking was almost entirely downhill, to our relief. We broke camp at our usual tardy hour and followed Park Creek toward it's confluence with the Stehekin River five miles below. The trail sloped gently downhill through old forest interspersed with a mix of younger stands and meadows. Although the plant community near the top was similar on either side of the pass, the further down we went, the more obvious it was we were on the eastern, drier side of the divide. We saw our first pine tree (a great big sugar pine) around mid-morning. Just like the rest of the trail, this part hadn't seen a trail crew in a while. After about three miles, we
had to cross the creek. We were forced to ford it because the log bridge had washed away in a flood. The crossing was a little dicey because the current was strong and the creek came up to about mid-thigh (on me, and a bit higher on Anne). Although I hadn't needed the snowshoeing poles I had brought in case of snow on the pass, I was grateful to have them as trekking poles when I waded through the icy water. Once we'd both crossed, we paused for a brief snack. From the crossing, the trail went around a bend, maintaining the same elevation while the creek plunged into a deep, granite canyon to our left. Eventually, we came to some switchbacks that allowed us to lose the same elevation that the creek was losing in the canyon.

After about a mile of steep downhill, we reached the Stehekin road. This is a dirt road that extends almost all the way from Stehekin to Marblemount over Cascade Pass. Only the part around the pass is too narrow for cars. However, intense flooding a couple springs ago undermined part of the road below where we met it, making it impassable to car traffic. In the past, there was a shuttle that ran all the way up to this point, but because of the road damage, we were on foot for another 7 or 8 miles. We stopped for lunch at a bridge over Park Creek near where it met the Stehekin River, then followed the road down the valley. After about 2 1/2 miles, we came to Bridge Creek. As we got near, we heard some people laughing down below the road. We looked down and saw a group of teenagers playing in a gorgeous swimming hole. These were the first people we had seen since the second morning of our trip. At first, I was a bit displeased to have our solitude broken, especially by a bunch of screeching teenagers. But one of the them gave us a friendly wave and a smile, and I started to feel a little less curmudgeonly. The campsite was another quarter mile down the road, near where our route met that of the Pacific Crest Trail. Because this was a major juncture between the trail over Cascade Pass and the PCT, the campground was a little crowded. Nevertheless, the sites were spread out enough that we felt we had enough privacy. That said, for the first time in a few days, I found myself looking around before I changed clothes.

After we set up camp, we headed toward the swimming hole. The kids had left, so we had it to ourselves, and we both took a brief dip. The water was icy cold and didn't encourage lingering, but it felt really nice to wash off in water that was more than knee deep. While we were lazing on the rocks after our dip, another group of kids came down to play in the water and jump off the rocks. We chatted with them for a bit before heading back up to camp to make dinner. That night's meal turned out to be the crowning culinary achievement of the trip: Szechuan noodles with peanut sauce. It consisted of noodles from a couple packages of ramen, seasonings that we'd mixed at home, dried cabbage, and the last of our peanut butter. I was a bit skeptical when we were drying the cabbage in our oven before the trip, but it turned out delicious. While we ate dinner, we watched the girls in the campsite next to us horse around in the bear locker. Their trip leaders seemed to have a pretty firm hand, though, and they went to bed early. We went to sleep not long after them.

Day 5: Bridge Creek to Stehekin. 5.1 miles
Our last day was a short hike, mostly along the road -- except where a trail skirted around the washed-out section -- to the shuttle stop at High Bridge. The hike went by amazingly quickly, so we had time to kill at the ranger station at High Bridge, which is the furthest out shuttle stop from Stehekin. When the shuttle, an old, repainted school bus, arrived, we (the two of us, another group of three backpackers, one of the groups of teenagers from the camp the previous night, and an incredibly surly, middle-aged couple out for a day hike) all piled our bags into the back of the bus and hopped in for the ride the rest of the way to Stehekin.

Stehekin is a small town at the head of Lake Chelan and is only accessible by boat, plane, or on foot. There are a few hundred residents, some of whom live there year-round. As near as I can tell, the only industry is tourism, which is mainly fed by people who take the ferry boat up the lake from the town of Chelan. We'd thought it would be fun to spend some time here re-acclimating to civilization, so we made a hotel reservation before we left. The town has two main centers of activity. Most of the tourism (including our hotel) is concentrated around the ferry dock, while most of the residents live about a five minute drive away near the mouth of the Stehekin River. As we drove through this section of town, the driver announced that we were passing the bakery. One of the passengers convinced him to stop for a few minutes. We felt a little out of place amidst all the vacationing families, some of whom gave us the stink eye when we rolled in accompanied by a dozen dirty, boisterous teenagers (not that we looked much better). Luckily, we had our wallets with us and were able to buy a couple day-old cookies, the first non-trail food we'd eaten in a few days. They were scrumptious. After rounding up all the stragglers, the bus continued on to the ferry dock. We checked into the hotel and reaped the benefits of heated, running water.

There's only one restaurant in Stehekin proper, on the ground floor of our hotel. Word on the street is that the food isn't any good. For me, the first hot meal after a backpacking trip is one of the most critical parts of the trip, so I was nervous about having a mediocre, middle-American dinner as my only choice. Fortunately, the Stehekin Valley Ranch came to the rescue. The Ranch is located a few miles back up the river and has some cabins and a restaurant. The ranger in Marblemount had recommended it to us, so we'd been anticipating and talking about this meal all trip. A sign in town told us that night's special was "Ranch roast," which seemed to me the most delicious thing imaginable. After cleaning up and relaxing on the deck for a while, we boarded the shuttle back up the valley. The Ranch serves buffet style dinner, with the evening's main course accompanied by an array of salads and side dishes. The best part is, it's all you can eat. I've been told an appropriate serving size for the protein portion of a meal is approximately the size of a deck of cards. I helped myself to at least four times that much pot roast, a huge helping of salad (which I was craving almost as much as the roast) and then tried to wedge in a few side dishes. (For those of you who are concerned about Anne, rest assured that they happily prepared her a chicken breast that came with all the same sides and salads.) After that, we were able to choose from among eight different kinds of pie for dessert. There was even self-serve coffee in big, metal coffee pots sitting on a grill by the fireplace. If I'd known while we were on the trail that the food was going to be this satisfying, I would have been half-crazed by the time we got to Stehekin. We boarded the bus back to town very pleased with our first post-hike meal.

The afternoon before we arrived in Stehekin, a fire had broken out along the lake a few miles south of town. Although the town wasn't immediately threatened, there was a low level of concern the whole time we were there, underscored by the boatloads of firefighters that kept arriving and leaving at the dock. There was an evacuation warning in place that basically said "the fire isn't immediately endangering the town, but that might change, so start thinking about leaving in case conditions change." Our ferry left at noon the next day, and we were a little worried because we didn't have a reservation. Luckily, there wasn't a crush of tourists trying to escape the fire, and we were able to get on. As we motored down the lake, we got a close view of the fire, which had gotten pretty big and didn't show any signs of slowing. The fire is still not entirely out, but it is more or less contained, according to today's Wenatchee World. Eventually, the fire moved out of sight and we enjoyed the two hour boat ride to Chelan, where Anne's mom was waiting for us at the ferry dock.

To see more pictures from this trip, click here.

08 August 2006

Diablo Lake to Park Creek

Our backpacking trip was to be a Cascades traverse, starting at Diablo Lake on the west side, going up and over the divide at Park Creek Pass, and then down the east side of the range into the town of Stehekin at the head of Lake Chelan. It was a trip we'd been talking about doing for years, so we were really excited about it. There was just one hitch: there's no public transportation that far into the mountains on the North Cascades Highway. Anne's mom was going to be picking us up in Chelan at the end of the trip, and we were then going to fly home from Wenatchee, so we didn't have a car and needed to find a creative way to get to the trailhead. We spent some of each of our first few days in Seattle trying to puzzle out how to get there, with none of the options looking too favorable. One option was to take the train or a bus to Mt. Vernon, then take a local bus as far as Concrete, which was still 30 miles shy of the trailhead. We could find no evidence of a shuttle service, although in our investigations we did get someone from the Marblemount chamber of commerce to offer us a lift for a small fee. Further complicating matters, the local bus, as local buses in rural areas tend to do, only ran twice a day, further limiting our options. Roger was a champ and volunteered to take us, but I was hoping to avoid this option. It was enough that he'd put us up for four days without also asking him to take a six hour round trip taxi drive. In the midst of this, John O'Brien, former co-worker of Roger and Tad and a hiking superhero, arrived. I'd hung out with Johno a couple times before, but hadn't seen him since Tad and Chloe's wedding. But when he heard our plan and the difficulties we were having arranging a trip to the trailhead, he volunteered to take us because he was looking for an excuse to get out and do some hiking himself. All he asked in return was that we pay his gas money, which was a trivial price compared to the thought of sitting in the Cascade Mall in Mt. Vernon for 4 hours waiting for a bus. So on Sunday morning, we blearily answered the door at 7:00 to Johno coming to take us away to the mountains. We bade farewell to our hosts, who had somehow managed to drag themselves out of bed to see us off, and headed north.

Day 1: Colonial Creek campground to Tricouni Camp. 7.7 miles
The drive was nice, and because of the relatively early hour, there wasn't much traffic. After a brief stop at the ranger station to get our permit, we headed for the campground. Diablo Lake is part of a large hydroelectric project owned by the city of Seattle. The first half of our hike would be spent following Thunder Creek from the lake and into the mountains to its headwaters below Park Creek Pass. Our hike started at the Colonial Creek campground on an arm of Diablo Lake where Thunder Creek empties into the lake. After we thanked him profusely, Johno headed for his day-hiking spot a little way back down the highway toward Seattle. We put on our packs, worrying about the fact that they already felt a little heavy, and headed up the trail around 11:00.

The first part of the trail was a relatively gentle grade through the trees along the shore of lake. Because it was a Sunday, we passed a number of groups heading back out. Eventually we passed beyond the edge of the lake and came to a point where the creek was free-flowing. Shortly thereafter, we crossed the creek on an impressive bridge that looked almost big enough to support a car. I do a lot of backpacking in wilderness areas, so I'm always a little surprised to see the extent of the infrastructure that the Park Service installs. The bridge was definitely necessary, though. Although it was called Thunder "Creek," it would definitely be called a river if it were in California. We stopped for a lunch of salami and cheese at the base of the bridge on the far side.

The rest of the afternoon was a steady climb through forest accompanied by the roar of the creek. After a little while, the trail veered uphill and away from the creek and into a slightly swampy, forested area. As the afternoon wore on, the five and a half hours of sleep we'd gotten the night before were beginning to catch up to us, so were very relieved when we came upon Fisher Creek, which marked the location of our first campsite. The camp was relatively well-developed, with a pit toilet (open air, but with a wooden seat) and even a fire ring. That night's dinner was pasta with a mix from a box. We had to eat it that night because it used a fresh tomato that we didn't think would fare too well the rest of the trip. We were pretty worn out from the day, and we turned in before the sun had gone down.

Day 2: Tricouni Camp to Thunder Basin.
8.9 miles
The next morning, we were a little surprised when we woke up and realized we'd slept for 10 hours. Apparently the hike had taken more out of us than we'd realized. It took us a while to strike camp, so we weren't back on the trail until almost mid-morning. Our morning pace would get better throughout the trip, but the truth is, neither Anne nor I is a morning person, so we never made it out of camp before about 9:30. The hike started with an immediate climb for about a mile to a junction with another trail. Just before the junction, we saw a couple of hikers on their way out. One of them said to me as they approached "We were beginning the think that we had the whole park to ourselves!" We chatted for a little bit then headed on our way. They were the last people we would see until the afternoon of day 4.

After a quick snack at the junction, we were disappointed to lose almost all of the elevation we'd struggled to gain that morning. We had to keep reminding ourselves that the whole point of the climb was to skirt around "The Great Dismal Swamp" in the valley below. The name brought to mid mosquitoes the size of sparrows, and although we chafed at having to head back downhill, we were happy to have avoided that. We were rewarded on this stretch of trail with some of the nicest views yet, including some views up Skagit Queen Creek to the Boston Glacier, one of the biggest in the lower 48.

By mid-afternoon, we had rejoined the creek. We stopped to fill our water bottles and take a quick break, then climbed steadily for the next couple of miles. After a little over a mile of interminable switchbacks, we reached the hanging valley of Thunder Basin. At this end, the valley was still pretty forested, with occasional patches of meadow. However, these meadows were where we started to see a lot of evidence of bears. There were frequently fresh scats on the trail, and some evidence bear beds adjacent to the trail in the meadows. We had been warned that there was high bear activity in the basin, so we were a bit wary. We tried to make more noise, and I think we managed to scare off all of the bears with our heartfelt selections from the Smiths' catalogue.

After about a mile of trekking through the valley, we were beginning to get a bit tired. The long hike was starting to take it's toll, especially compounded by the mosquitoes, occasional patches of stinging nettles (this was of course the one day we had both worn shorts), and the energy required to belt out "Girlfriend in a Coma" for the fourth time. We reached a campsite at around 7:00, and although our permit said we were planning on staying at the high camp 1.2 miles further up the trail, we knew it would be exhausting, and unsafe, to try to press on. So we made our camp there. The campsite itself, like much of this part of the trail, had clearly not seen a trail crew this season. After scrambling over some logs, we found a nice open spot with easy access to the creek and a nice spot to hang a bear bag, which seemed even more necessary than usual this evening. The campsite also held a mysterious metal box, about the size of a chest freezer. At first we thought it was a bear locker, but it was padlocked shut, so it didn't seem too useful. Whatever it was, a bear or a large rock had had its way with the lid, leaving a huge dent. Our poor avocado was also not in very good shape, but it still tasted delicious in our bean burritos. We were in bed almost immediately after dinner.

Day 3: Thunder Basin Stock Camp to 5-Mile Camp. 5.1 miles
After another 10-hour sleep, we rolled our of camp about the same time as the day before (although we struck camp a little more quickly; we'd just slept later). We spent the rest of the morning hiking up the valley. The night before, we'd gotten our first look at the pass we were to cross. We'd been warned by the ranger that there might be snow still on it, although after spending all week roasting in Seattle, it was hard to imagine how. It looked pretty clear from our vantage point the day before, but we did get a bit nervous when we came across a small patch of snow shortly after leaving camp. The rest of the way was clear, however, and it had turned into a beautiful day, hiking through open meadows as the patches of trees got smaller and smaller the further up we went.

We reached the high camp in time for a mid-morning snack, certain we never would have made it there the night before. We were now looking at the last big climb of the trip, where we would gain 1700 feet in about a mile to reach the pass. The climb itself turned out to be not so bad, as we switched back repeatedly over the creek. The creek was so much smaller at this point that you could almost step across it.

After about an hour, we reached the pass, which was well worth all of the trouble. The views both to the north and the south were stunning. To the north, we could see the Picketts, and to the south we had a very clear view of the aptly-named Sawtooth range. There was still a little snow in the pass, but the trail was on the slope about 20 yards above and was completely clear. We dawdled at the top for a while, taking pictures and gaping at the view. Eventually it was time to say farewell to Thunder Creek and to head down into the Park Creek drainage.

The views on this side were equally spectacular, and I found myself wishing we had an extra day to hang out up here and explore the basin. But we had to press on down to the main channel of Park Creek, which drains the south face of the impressive Mt. Buckner. This part of the trail was even steeper than the climb up, and it went on for longer. We were glad we didn't have to climb up anything like this for the rest of the trip. On the way down, we finally saw our first (and only) bear of the trip. Coming down a steep section through a thicket of alder, we heard something rustling in the trees below us. We paused, and I noticed a big, brown shape lumbering just off the trail. We started yelling at it, and although it took its time, it slowly ambled away from the trail. We did have a nervous moment as the next switchback angled us back toward the bear, but luckily we didn't see any more of it.

The trail finally leveled off after a couple miles, and we were in 5-Mile camp before we knew it. Our first priority on arriving in camp was to wash off in the creek, which we hadn't had the opportunity to do the night before. Unfortunately, this camp was home to legions of biting flies. Although we had encountered them throughout the day on the trail, we hadn't found them very threatening because they were generally pretty slow-witted and easy to swat, and they didn't bite often. However, as soon we was standing in the creek with all of our flesh exposed, splashing off with glacier-fed water, they suddenly become emboldened and descended on us. Needless to say, I didn't wash off very thoroughly. We quickly covered ourselves in long sleeve shirts and started to set up camp. After dinner (curried lentils and rice, a consistent favorite), a deer wandered into camp. It meandered around the campsite, keeping a respectful distance, but not really paying us much mind. After it started nosing around the sump hole where we washed our dinner dishes, I stood up to shoo it off. It seemed startled at first, as if it hadn't realized we were there until then. But then it sauntered off, taking its time before crossing the creek and heading up the trail. As the sun went down, the flies became less active. They were, however, replaced by mosquitoes, so we were happy to retreat to the tent after a (well-earned but sadly not very tasty) dessert of vanilla pudding.

Next: teenagers, pot roast, and a forest fire

07 August 2006


We arrived in Seattle on a Wednesday morning, and Roger was generous enough to come pick us up at the airport. He took us back to their house via Martin Luther King so we could see all of the light rail construction. The street was a big mess, but it was still really cool to see because of how long it's taken to get the thing built. I was excited to see Roger and Gina's new house, and I was impressed by how close it was to the lake. One other thing about their house that was cool to Anne and me was that it's in a part of the city (near Seward Park) we almost never went when we lived there. We went to Seward Park once, and Anne worked on Beacon Hill for a while, but other than that we only went south of downtown a handful of times while we lived there. We took full advantage of this opportunity to explore a new part of the city by walking to the Columbia City neighborhood for lunch. I didn't even know this part of Seattle existed until Roger drove us through it on the way home from the airport. We went the Columbia City Alehouse for lunch and then walked around for a bit. One of the things that I notice about Seattle since I've moved away is how white the city is, but seeing all the people out and about while we were walking around in Columbia City made me feel like I was in Oakland.

One of the highlights of staying with Roger and Gina was that their house was temporarily converted into the "Kurtz Ko-op" while Tad, Chloe, and Chloe's sister Tina were staying with them while remodeling their house. It was great to hang out with all of them -- plus Roo and Cinnamon -- and I was impressed with how the house didn't feel crowded with all of us there. I really enjoyed hanging out and basking in the glow of their gargantuan projection TV. The first night we watched "So You Think You Can Dance," which was very entertaining.

The first full day, we borrowed Roger's car (which we had full use of the whole time we were there -- thanks again, man!) and met Anne's dad in Ravenna for lunch. This was another part of the city we didn't venture to while we lived up there. We met at a combination bookstore/cafe (the name escapes me) where we had a tasty lunch and a nice visit. On the way up there, we got to take the express lanes, which for some reason is always a great thrill for me. I guess it's the thought that at certain times of day, traffic is hurtling at 70 mph (ok, 60 mph, this is Seattle after all) in the opposite direction. After lunch we went to REI and somehow managed to escape with only buying some strike-anywhere matches. From there, we went to the old 'hood and checked out the Val Anne (our former home) as well as a some of our favorite haunts, including Uptown Espresso and the big metal sphere water fountain at the Seattle Center. We went to the EMP next, which was pretty cool. I especially liked the room on the top floor where you could play all of the various instruments. I even did a little easy-skankin' and learned how to pound out a reggae beat on one of the drum kits. I also liked the Northwest music exhibit, although it was a little odd seeing something you had lived through in your (nearly) adult life presented as history. I think I'd even read one of the copies of The Rocket they had on display when it came out. We were both pleased to see a Sky Cries Mary CD in the "Other Than Grunge" section. I guess we're getting predictable, because Gina totally called that we would go to Thai Heaven for dinner. It was delicious, as usual. I always worry when we go there that nostalgia will inflate my expectations, but the Evil Jungle Prince delivered as usual.

The next day, we took a journey down to Tacoma to see how much UPS has changed since we graduated. Anyone who's been back there in the past ten years can verify that it's changed a lot, with all sorts of new construction. The new section of Thompson hall was really cool, if not quite finished. It even had a whale skeleton hanging in the lobby. Who knows where they had that thing stored. We tried to track down some of our old professors, though all but a couple weren't in when we went by their offices. (For those of you fellow Loggers, the two we did manage to catch were Robin Foster and Michael Curley). That evening, once everyone had staggered home from work, we headed down to the lake for some swimming. Roger and Gina are very lucky to have the lake so close to their house (although they may not be thinking so this weekend because of Seafair), especially when it's as hot as it was while we were there. That night we went our for Mexican food then made an abortive attempt to go sing karaoke. Unfortunately, the karaoke bar where the Seattle gang plies their trade had lost their DJ to another club. Although we were sad that our friends had lost their karaoke spot, Anne and I aren't very capable singers, so were secretly a little relieved.

One of the disadvantages of visiting your friends when you're on vacation is that they aren't also on vacation, and so they still have to work. Luckily, the next day was Saturday, so we got to hang out with everyone all day. We started the day by making French toast for everyone. The rest of the day, we mostly hid from the heat in the basement, with the exception of a quick trip to the post office where we mailed our street clothes that we wouldn't be needing on the trail to Anne's mom in Brewster. Later that afternoon, we had a couple additional adventures. First, Tad took us to their house, which was really interesting to see in its current state, with many of the interior walls missing. They had just finished framing, so we could see the outlines of their vision. I'm very excited to see it once it's done. (Not a fraction as excited as I'm sure Tad and Chloe are.) After we got back from our tour, Roger, Gina, Tad, Anne, and I walked over to Seward Park and swam back across the cove to the park near their house. It was fun being out in the open water like that, although we had to dodge a few boats. It was amusing to see the confusion of some of the boaters when we swam by, although not as amusing when they'd fire up their jet skis, which belched plumes of bluish smoke that hovered malevolently on the surface of the water. Jet skis aside, it was a fun way to get some exercise and to cool off too. That night we had some delicious lamburgers. While Grillmaster Roger was preparing the burgers, we reorganized our packs to get them ready for our upcoming backpacking trip. Because we'd heard that there might be snow on the pass, we had a lot of extra gear. I remember wincing the first time I picked up my fully-stuffed pack, wondering if Roger and Gina might need an extra jacket or a rain fly. After dinner, we made some very tasty, home-made ice cream. If we had somewhere to put an ice cream maker in our apartment, I don't think I'd ever buy ice cream again. We went to bed a little late, a little loagy from the ice cream and burgers and thinking about the early start we were going to get the next day.

05 August 2006

Back in Hobbiton

We got back from a great trip to Washington on Wednesday night. We somehow managed to see just about all of the friends and family that we still have up there and got a good sampling of all the city, country, and wilderness amenities the state has to offer. I'll blog a bit more about our trip next week once I've managed to scan some of the photos from our backpacking trip.

Today is my first day back on campus since we got back. I've managed to claw my way through all of the email that accumulated over the past two weeks, and for once I was happy that a sizeable chunk of the mail I get is for neighborhood yard sales and Oakland Green Party events. It's easy to be ruthless with your inbox when you have 150+ new messages. The rest of the day has truly felt like a first day back from vacation. After polishing off the email backlog, I've lurked on friends' blogs (and regretted that sometimes Mozilla behaves unpredictably when you try to post a comment on a Microsoft-hosted blog) and figured out the subtleties of Google Calendar. Luckily, I'd not planned to do anything truly productive until Monday.

I just wanted to write about one more thing. A day or two before I left, I got the strangest spam. It had the cryptic subject "eyhyjo" and consisted only of the following text fragment:
things he had never seen or done. He was very much alarmed, as well as disgusted; he wished himself a hundred miles away, and yet-and yet somehow he could not go straight back to Thorin and Company
Most people would guess this is an excerpt from The Hobbit. I'm a big Tolkein nerd, but apparently not nerd enough to have recognized that this excerpt was from the scene where Bilbo rescues the dwarves from the trolls. (I thought it was from the scene on Smaug's threshold.) I had to google (sorry, Tad) a part of the quote to find that, but that still doesn't answer the question of why I got sent this or who the mysterious sender, Zuberi Driver, is. I guess I should be happy that cyberspace occasionally vomits up an anonymous reference to one of my favorite books and leave it at that.