Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Just your typical weekend in Seattle

How can you be passive-aggressive in looking for a job? Well, so far I've sent out a few resumes to contracting agencies around the Seattle area and am left waiting, and exercising my patience. I'm choosing to call this passive aggressive. Eventually, I suppose, bills will start to arrive, and I will have to be more aggressive and less passive about the whole thing, for now though, I get to enjoy what's left of the summer, while making the best of my free time here in Seattle.

So, starting on Thursday, because in my world, the weekend certainly begins on Thursday. It was a study in contrasts: healthy - yoga early in the morning. Not so healthy - Dixie's barbecue for lunch. But barbecue was quite important - when you go overseas, the exotic international food is always interesting and exciting, and South America was no exception. However, there's definitely foods that I had missed too - Thai, Indian, and sushi had already all been taken care of, so barbecue was another void to fill in. The barbecue was, as always, quite excellent, unfortunately Gene, the proprietor, was nowhere to be found, so no 'Man Sauce' to be had. Consequently, no taste buds were forced to commit suicide over the course of lunch.

And here's Gene himself... except, of course, he was nowhere to be found on this fine day!

Thursday was also Lott's birthday, but since he's now vaguely responsible (as are apparently most of his friends that are not residing on his couch), the actual party had been pushed off till Friday. And Friday night didn't disappoint, as some 30 of us filed into Liz' apartment, overlooking Pudget Sound and the Olympic mountains, in time for sunset and focused on grilled things and champagne mixed with Eldeflower liquor. Yeah, Eldeflower - I'd never heard of this French concoction before either, but it's quite good. Especially with champagne and a couple raspberries...

By 10 o'clock Saturday morning, the champagne was mostly gone from my system, so I figured it was a good time to be active and play frisbee. 30 minute bike ride to the field up at Greenlake included. Downhill almost the entire way there - yeah! Uphill on the way back... not so good, especiaully after running for two hours... but I am trying to get back in shape, I suppose? Lott was apparently far enough over the champagne by 10AM to play frisbee too, perhaps not far enough to be willing to bike there though... so he showed up by car, 15 minutes after me.

Saturday night, it was time to see more friends I hadn't seen for a better part of 18 months as we were off to Jon and Janna's house for potluck, featuring Jon's smoker (smoked tuna and trout!) and high tech oven contraption in their newly remodeled kitchen - roast beef! They live just a couple of miles away from my old townhouse, so, as an added bonus, I got to see the old neighborhood. And record that not much seems to have changed, except that my former condo complex appears to have a lot of units up for sale. Remaining glad to have sold when I did. Back to roast beef, etc. - amazingly good food makes it easy to justify running and biking for three hours earlier the same afternoon... even if my knee didn't seem to agree entirely...

Ignoring the said knee on Sunday, I was up before 7 and meeting up with Lott and Megan to go on a 15 mile hike to the Necklace Valley Lakes. It's a pretty hike (rated a 10 on the scenery scale according to a guide book Megan had) and it is an agreeably short distance from Seattle. This one also deserves pictures - I wasn't really going to go an entire post without any pictures, whether I'm in some exotic part of the world or not:

Lott excited to be out in the wilderness. Also pictured: equally exciting bridges on the hike

Megan leading the way up

And after gaining about 2,500ft in 2.2 miles, we finally reached the first of the lakes! I kept thinking about just how much more convenient the metric system is - there's five thousand and how many feet in a mile again...?

Heading for lake #2, and lunch... to be followed by a nap in the sun

So, that was my second weekend back in Seattle - see friends, enjoy excellent food, and get out hiking, while the sun's still out in Seattle. End the weekend thoroughly exhausted. Monday would be spent primarily within the confines of the couch, recovering in time to get back out there and play hockey Tuesday night...

As a parting shot, this picture of a funny-looking bus I passed by at Pike Place market, where I felt oddly out of place being surrounded by a sea of tourists:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

One last stop - ёжик в тумане

What do China, India, Bolivia, Indonesia, Russia, and the US have in common? That's right, they are all places where I've taken an overnight train on this trip - what, not obvious? After nearly a full week in San Francisco and Tahoe, I hopped back onboard the Amtrak and headed on North for Crater Lake, a National Park near the Southern border of Oregon.

Amtrak #14 - Coast Starlight: my ride from San Diego to Seattle - probably a bit more comfortable than the alternatives in all those other countries above. Definitely a lot more expensive.

Oregon and I got off to an uneasy start - I picked up my rental car in Klamath Falls and headed into town for breakfast. Eating, I got to watch my car get pummeled by hail. Yes, in the beginning of August. The locals thought this was a little out of the ordinary as well - the day before it had been sunny and 85. Undeterred, I drove off towards Crater Lake itself.

We've got fancy entrance signs in out National Parks - take that, the rest of the world!

And here's the lake itself - complete with Wizard island in the middle of it.

As that last picture may suggest, the weather didn't improve a whole lot by the time I got to the park - it was gray, dreary, and drizzly here as well. In fact, we got more hail while I was having lunch... (I'm happy to report that no precipitation occurred during dinner). I carried on, and the weather did cooperate somewhat, improving marginally as we got later into the day.

Now, a bit of background on Crater Lake. About 7,500 years ago, Mt. Mazama sat in its place, and was the tallest mountain in the Cascade range. It was, of course, a volcano, so eventually it blew up (an eruption many orders of magnitude larger than St. Helens in 1980). With the volcano's magma chamber now empty, the big mountain collapsed upon itself forming the caldera (which is different from a crater, but I can't recall the specifics) that we see today. A short time later, geologically speaking - within another thousand years - the caldera was filled with water. Crater Lake has no inlets or tributaries, so the entire volume of water is the result of snow melt and precipitation, while the lake loses its water only through evaporation and some seepage through the softer surrounding rocks.

Owing to its volcanic origins, Crater Lake is one of the deepest lakes in the world (9th deepest to be exact at 594m), the deepest in the US. Not the deepest on the continent, however, as Canada's Great Slave lake in the NW Territories checks in at 20 meters more. California's Tahoe also makes the list at #16. Baikal, deep in Russia's Siberia is #1 at almost three times the depth of Crater Lake. This is what wikipedia is for, so a complete list, for the curious... Random trivia gleaned from that list: Antarctica has lakes! In fact, lake Vostok is the 5th deepest in the world. Unfortunately, it's buried under thousands of meters of ice, so you can't exactly go for a swim... Back to Crater Lake - it's also rated as containing the clearest water in the world (since all of its supply comes from precipitation and snow melt) - the measuring method might seem a bit hokey, but the water certainly looks incredibly clear to the naked eye. The waters are also some of the purest in North America in terms of the absence of pollutants...

Now that we're done with the geology lesson for the day, back for more pictures... The National Park surrounding the lake isn't really all that big, so while you can do a bit of hiking, the primary activities are to take a drive along the rim and to take a boat ride on the lake itself. So Day 1, I set off on a drive:

That little formation is called Phantom Ship

And these are the Pinnacles - fossil fumaroles created by the Mazama eruption

The night was spent camping. Your camping guide for Crater Lake - the 'good' campsite in the park charges only $10 for the night, is located in a quiet little bit of the forest on the way to the Pinnacles, but only has space for 16 tents, so it was full. The less good site is gigantic (and thus less good in mind) and charges $23 for a tent site. And those were all full (the tourists were clearly not swayed by the less than perfect weather), so I was offered an RV site for a bargain price of $28... Paying almost $30 to put up my tent next to a bunch of RV's seemed like the worst idea in the world, so instead I paid $5 to stay at a campground in the nearby town of Fort Klamath, where I could listen to the river gurgle right outside my tent. Peaceful...

The following morning, time to get down to the lake itself, which, by the way, can be dangerous:

Danger, Will Robinson! Take the one and only path we have to get down to the water. It had been a while since I had seen a truly amusing warning sign.

The weather wasn't exactly encouraging as I got to the boat, but five of us decided to persevere and set off for the ride to Wizard Island. For a while there, I thought that turning back really wouldn't be such a bad idea. We did not, however, and were instead rewarded by rapidly improving conditions once we landed on the island, which the five of us had all to ourselves for the next three hours.

At the top, it was getting downright sunny as I was looking down into the crater (Wizard Island is also a volcano, of course)

Still some clouds behind me

But overall, very clear - enough to bring out the bright colors of the deep waters of the lake

There's a few emerald ponds on the island - an intriguing sight even if you do have to crawl over a bunch of loose volcanic rock to catch a glimpse of them

Back to the dock to have a little lunch - the chipmunks on the island are well aware that this is the very place where tourists [with food] arrive

And on the way back across the lake, cruising a little closer to the Phantom Ship rocks

Back at the car at top of the caldera, I found myself once more enveloped in a dense cloud of fog. On occasion, it would shift just enough to expose a glorious view of the lake:

Wizard Island peaking out of the fog

Most of the rest of the time, I was feeling a little lost in the fog, which made me think of ёжик в тумане - check out that post title... If you are not up on your Russian, that means 'Hedgehog in the fog,' which is a famous old Russian cartoon about ... you guessed it, a hedgehog lost in the fog! Thanks to youtube, you can now actually watch the whole thing for yourself here. According to Russian wikipedia, the cartoon was recognized as the best of 'all time and all nations' ... by a panel of 140 film critics and animators.

A couple of hours later, I was back in Klamath Falls, trying out the local cuisine at Applebee's... and departing the following morning for Seattle. Not before catching this site:

Perhaps the American rail system still isn't all that much more advanced than the Indian one?

The weather Saturday morning as I was waiting for Amtrak's late-running Coast Starlight? 75 and sunny - that's right, I was at Crater Lake for just about the two worst days they had had this summer - sigh... on the bright side, I did have a few not-entirely-cloudy days in San Francisco, which is equally uncommon this time of the year!

At 5:04PM on August 8, 2009, I crossed back into Washington State (without an onward ticket this time), and by around 9 that evening I was back in Seattle, bringing the almost 20 months of wondering around the world to a successful (I think?) conclusion. My bag had by now accumulated a pair of jeans from Colombia, my French towel, my Thai swimming trunks, my 'dress shoes' from Tenerife, an Antarctic t-shirt, Czech toothpaste, Peruvian shaving cream, a camera lens from Bolivia, a pocket knife from Russia, a jacket from Kathmandu, Nepal, a pair of socks from Japan, and sunglasses from a Shell station in Klamath Falls, Oregon... so, yeah, I guess I'd been around a bit.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

And you call that the Death Road!?

This is the infamous Death Road outside of La Paz, Bolivia. Dozens of people used to die here when this was the major highway connecting La Paz with ... well, with some other city in Bolivia, and buses going down the narrow, twisting, unpaved road would occasionally plummet down the canyon. These days, there's a nicer, safer, paved road and this one is mostly just for tourists to bike down. And receive a t-shirt saying "I survived the Road of Death" ... if you make it, that is - over some 20-25 years that tourists have been pedaling down this road, a little over 20 have gone over the edge of the cliff, reinforcing the whole Death Road moniker, a little. Naturally, I went, while in La Paz back in May. Now, fast-forward to early August, all the way up to Lake Tahoe in Northern California, (or actually on the Nevada side of the lake), and I was once again powering my way across the mountains on a bike. Except, up here, I was on the Flume trail, which looks like this:

That would be about a 3rd of the average width of the trail we had back in Bolivia, certainly unpaved, with occasional other riders passing in both directions, and the same, unwelcoming cliff edge on one side. Of course, on the other side, you get this view of Lake Tahoe:

All in all, I had to conclude that if you were to let hordes of unruly backpackers onto the Flume trail (especially the Israelis, who are renowned all over South America for being especially bad at following instructions, and thus comprise over a third of the total number of fatalities on the Death Road), the guidebooks might have to reconsider the name 'World's Deadliest Road'. Fortunately (for the insurance companies that cover the people who rent the bikes?) the backpackers don't generally make it up to Tahoe, so I shared the trail with some calm and safe American tourists, and as far as I can tell, noone has ever plummeted to their death off the Flume trail... Instead, we all got to enjoy spectacular views of Lake Tahoe - the largest alpine lake in the US, apparently... proving that with enough qualifiers you can be regarded as the best in some category or another.

I ended up spending about a day and a half (one night) at Tahoe, doing a bit of hiking, a bit mountain biking, and a good bit of driving around the lake. And resurrecting the Russian tent for the night. So, a few more shots from Tahoe:

At the top of 10,000+ ft Mt. Rose, the highest peak around Tahoe

Rocky beach at the side of the lake

beautiful azure water, as looking down from the Flume trail

As for getting to Tahoe... after about two weeks of relaxing in San Diego, I finally concluded that it was time to move closer to facing the real world back in Seattle. Not wanting to rush things too much though, I bypassed the airport, instead hopping on an Amtrak train and making my way up the coast slowly, with a couple of stops along the way (thus adding the US to the long list of countries that I had crossed overland). By the evening of Day 1, we were in Oakland, which was my first stop - a few days of sightseeing around San Francisco, while catching up with friends there, and a side trip to Tahoe. The highlights of Tahoe were above, so on to a few shots of San Francisco:

Downtown San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge

Biking was somewhat of a theme around here, so I rented a bike and cycled across the bridge, stopping for a picture on the far side

Passing by Alcatraz island along the way - over a week waiting list for the tours of the actual former prison! I had to settle for a few long distance shots of the island

Another shot of the bridge - the weather eventually got better, but on this day, we had the standard San Francisco fog hugging the tops of the bridge

Weather clearing up over the other side of the bay

Sea lions - the stars of the show on Pier 39, Fisherman's Wharf

Occasionally, ok very occasionally, I can pretend to be a little cultured - so a trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

And those were the highlights of Northern California - from there, further on up towards Seattle, more on that in another post.