Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Wow, Christmas already!?  The seasons seem to fly by faster with each passing year!

I have just finished setting out the presents from Santa Claus and we all enjoyed a late night "Coney Dog" Dinner...with the authentic hot dogs, buns and chili shipped straight from National Coney Island...Detroit, MI courtesy of my Dad!  Thanks for shipping it all out Dad!  Reminded me of home.

We sent out a "photo" Christmas Card (above) along with the traditional Greeting Cards this year, to Family and some extended family.  It is a bit different, in that there are no faces on the Photo Card!  Seemed it was more difficult than usual to get everyone together at the same time, in front of the Christmas tree this year!  So, I settled on the idea of simply letting folks see a bit of our home as it appears during the Christmas Season.  The decorations, the "snowman room (downstairs in the family/piano room) and the cookies are all courtesy of Sandi and her love of doing all things Christmas!

The Scan of the card wasn't up to my standards, so I have included the photos that made up the you can get a better look!  Christmas at home...and an invitation to "visit us" in our home, even though the distance precludes doing so in person!


                 We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and a healthy and happy New Year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

WABDR Adventure Ride Day 2

Day 2

Day 2 began with us packing up our sleeping bags and tents and getting our gear properly placed back onto our bikes/bike racks. Though it’s not a terribly difficult task, I really dislike this part of each day. I would rather just leave my tent/sleeping bag behind and just ride off unencumbered by my “gear”! Oh well, 20-25 minutes later we were ready to head down the road.

The weather was nice…clear blue skies and the sun coming through the trees, though it was a bit cool. We headed east on highway 12 to connect up with our next dirt road that would move us North. At the top of White Pass, we decided to stop and get some breakfast…fill up on water and fuel up…correction…we had fueled up the night before, so no need! There was pretty much one place on White Pass to accomplish these things and it was all in one place. It is a Fuel Station, CafĂ©, Convenience Store kinda place, that everyone going East or West tends to stop at for one reason or another.

We parked the bikes and went in to get our respective necessities. For Jim this would be coffee. We grabbed something to eat, filled up on our water and sat down for a bit to contemplate the days ride. While there we observed quite a variety of people coming and going…A State Trooper was chatting with one of the gals at the counter…you could tell he was a regular, or the store was on his regular route. There were a few “granola” types…looking like they were coming or going from a nature hike. A couple of folks that came through the doors weren’t even speaking English.

I discovered that there was a very small bathroom…with an accompanying very long line. Hmmm. I really don’t like not taking a shower, or washing my face etc….before beginning my day…no matter where I am at. It doesn’t need to be a hot shower…heck, it could be (and has been) a dip in an ice cold river or lake, a cold shower, a makeshift “bath” by way of a canteen full of water…hiding behind a tree in the snow and using yesterdays t-shirt as a wash cloth….doesn’t matter what method, I just don’t feel “ready for the day” until I have cleaned up.

I saw this tiny bathroom as a big opportunity, so when the line dwindled and Jim and Brandon were enjoying a makeshift breakfast and some coffee, I entered the bathroom…which could not be locked. It had a small sink, a urinal and a toilet. I took off my shirt, grabbed some soap and as quickly as possible, I washed my hair, my face and my torso….as people came in/out of the bathroom, a few of which probably wanted to wash their hands! Sorry kids…I gots to be clean!!!!
A few minutes later, I am walking out, fresh as a daisy…with a few people in line wondering if there was a shower in that bathroom! Ha! I walk out to where Jim and Brandon are sitting and Jim says (with some jealousy I’m sure) “someone took a bath”! Yes…yes I did! A couple bottles of juice later and I am ready to hit the road!

We take off, westbound, on Highway 12. There are a couple of turnouts that offer some really nice views of Mt St Helens and at one point we turn off to get a look. As we roll up on a picnic table near the visitor viewpoint, we see a rather unusual “memorial” of sorts.

There on the picnic table is …well, you know what?...I will simply post the photo so you see the “memorial”, just as we saw it when we rolled up. Interesting to say the least!! I will leave you to your imagination.

We take off again and find our turnoff onto a dirt road, where we see a few other riders making their way north. We stop and chat with a guy and his wife, who are riding “two up” on a large adventure bike. They are here from Canada if I recall correctly?? They ask us about the trail, but since we have yet to experience it ourselves, we are unable to provide much information. They set off as we wait a bit, so that we don’t catch up with them right away. We discuss how uncomfortable we would be with all that weight…two persons, very large motorcycle etc…when trying to navigate the rough stuff. Oh well, more power to them!

We head out and are soon enjoying a rather leisurely ride/gradual hill climb. The dirt is well packed and there are smatterings of gravel but it is all pretty simple stuff as we make our way to the top of a hill that provides a beautiful and panoramic view. There are a couple of Jeeps up here and their passengers are taking in the view as well. We stop for a photo or two, and head out after the Jeeps that had just left.
 It is not long before we catch up and pass the slow moving Jeeps. We wave as we pass them and continue up another gradual hill, cresting Bethel Ridge about a mile or so up the trail. It is a great southern panoramic view. We met a few other adventure riders at this point, so we conversed a bit, had them take what I think is the only photo with all three of us in it, and we are on our way again.

The riding at this point is still pretty simple. Hard pack dirt, ruts, some chunky gravel, a few deep puddles…but nothing difficult. We enjoy the views from the ridge we ride for the next hour or so. It is perfect for Brandon, as it is just the right mix of good conditions to allow him to get some experience, but still enjoy riding.

A while later we get to the Cleman Mountain area and at this point there are a few steep hills covered in fist sized, jagged rock, about a foot deep. This stuff is never fun and the only way to really deal with it, is to attack is with some throttle! We catch up to the “two up” riders we spoke to earlier at this point. As we watch them start up this 100 yard long, rock strewn mess, we couldn’t help but think….”no way”!?!

Well, they start up the hill, and as they slowly make their way, we figure, “ehh maybe they are fine”! So Jim hammers up the hill, getting past them and I tell Brandon he is up next. I tell him that he will need to get moving and then point the bike and really get on the throttle to get up on top of/power thru and over these large rocks. I can see in his eyes, he is not terribly comfortable with this, and I don’t blame him. If you make a screw up, and slow down/stop, you are going to tip over onto the rocks…and it’s gonna Hurt!

So Brandon gets moving, but I can tell its not fast enough. He is coming up on the “two up” bike midway up the hill, who has since gotten “stuck” in the deep, jagged rocks. I think having them block part of the trail causes him to slow a bit and sure enough….ohhh, ohhhhhhh…there he goes, falling over onto the rocks. Ouch. He gets up, and tries to get moving again in the deep rocks. I forgot to tell him that if you have to start on a hill, in big, deep rocks, that it is going to be really hard! Oops! There he goes again…he’s down. Brandon finally gets moving a bit and is able to safely, though recklessly, get up to a leveled off spot at the end of this hill and the beginning of another equally challenging hill. The “two up” crew had made it to the same leveled off place, after the female passenger had dismounted the bike to allow the man to ride the large bike (barely) up the rest of the hill.

With the trail clear, I hammered the Super Sherpa up the rocky hill…getting sideways and throwing jagged rocks back down the hill at waiting riders. It wasn’t pretty, but bam…I am up the hill. We left the “two up” crew at that level spot and Brandon motored up the next stretch with a lot more vigor and was soon atop the hill looking back at the rock quarry he had just conquered. He did a great job climbing that second steep hill and I know it felt good for him. I followed him up where we met up with Jim and a couple of Jeep drivers that had the pleasure of watching the last few riders bang their way to the top. In hindsight, we should have stayed a while and videoed some folks coming up, as it would have showed the tenacity required to get up that section of the trail. Oh well, off we went…we had a lot of miles to cover.
For the next hour or two, we rode pretty much north/northeast and we cold literally feel it warm up as we headed into Eastern WA. The riding was scenic, relatively easy and very enjoyable. Brandon commented on how much he was enjoying the ride that day, as it was perfect conditions for gaining some experience. It wasn’t long before we were into Eastern WA and headed towards beautiful Umtanum Ridge. This is a large ridge that we would ride for a while enjoying the views of the valley some 2500 feet below us.

We had made good time on our ride, and as we hit Umtanum Ridge, we were really towards the end of the days ride, as once we descended, we would be riding a dirt road into Ellensburg. Umtanum had a few rather steep and rocky (More like loose gravel) sections that were 100 to 150 yards long. Now, by this time, we had ridden for several hours and had really put a strain on Brandon, who had never put in this kind of seat time, let alone in 80-90 degree weather. We knew he was a bit stressed here and there, but I think we under-estimated the impact that his “holding on for dear life” grip on the bike had over the entire day. He was tired, very tired and when you get tired on a dirt bike, you start getting sloppy, no matter how good a rider you are.

We hit a few hills, rocky but not too steep. Brandon was getting sloppy and was having a hard time literally holding onto his handlebars. His arms and shoulders were exhausted and as I followed him, I began to really notice it. We all stop and talk. We figure about 30 minutes on the ridge, up and down some hills and we would be on the easy gravel road that would lead us to Ellensburg, where we would stop for the night. We even agreed to just get a motel room so as to get a good nights rest etc. and ease tensions.

We have been simply following the GPS track on Jim’s GPS at this point. We had not needed to pull out a map or anything, as this track had been checked/double checked and updated by many adventure riders before us. We had decided after looking at the GPS when we hit a small radio tower, that we should proceed east along the ridge. That’s what the GPS said..
Brandon takes another spill as he climbs a longgggggg and rather steep hill, with loose gravel. He picks up his bike and Jim helps get him to the top of the hill, but after picking up his bike, taking the falls, and the long, hot day’s ride, it is obvious he is running on empty. I make my way up the hill and we head out…Brandon’s face is anything but happy at this point, but he soldiers on.

We have one last hill in front of us according to the GPS, and after that, it shows us descending down towards the dirt road towards Ellensburg. Jim climbs the hill, parks his bike and stands up on the hill to help guide Brandon up. I tell Brandon to take the left path up, as there are some patches of dirt that he can grab some traction on, before hitting the rocky parts of the uphill.

Brandon says “ok”. His tone betrays his exhaustion, but he points his bike up the hill and heads up. He gets about ¼ the way up, hits some loose rock and goes down. At this point, it is not even an issue of skill, he is simply just too tired. Jim walks down and advises Brandon to just walk up the hill and he will ride his bike up. Jim comes down to the bottom of the hill where I am at, slipping and sliding Brandon’s bike all the way down the sloppy gravel. He tells me the trail is “a bitch” and that it goes on for a distance greater than it appears, so keep on the throttle once I get moving.

I take off up the hill, letting the throttle do all the work, and climb to the top…passing a slow walking Brandon about halfway up. I pull next to Jim’s bike and Jim comes flying up next to me hooping and hollering! Seems he realllly likes Brandon’s bike and is having a blast screaming up the hill on it!

Click Here To See Video   (Choose 720p for best results)

 We turn to see Brandon cresting the long hill...helmet in his hand, tired...and the first word that came to mind seeing him slowly stumbling towards us was....dejected.  I took this photo of him as he crested the long hill.

I tell Jim that we really need to get off the ridge and onto some easier stuff as Brandon is spent. (Which is going to affect his riding)  He agrees and says, “according to the GPS we should be heading left and down the ridge up ahead”. Famous last words.

Jim decides to scout the route that descends off the ridge. He comes back a few minutes later and looks perplexed. According to the GPS we should be taking a left, down the hill, but it appeared to have dead-ended? We decide to ride east a bit more…and we again, dead-end at the edge of the ridge?! Now, we are not on empty at this point, but I calculate we have less than a gallon of gas each and we can’t be messing around too much looking for routes off this ridge.

Now it should be noted that Jim and I both consider ourselves expert at land navigation, map reading, terrain association and the like. Jim is a member of our Search and Rescue Team and I spent 12 years in the Army doing land navigation and reading maps routinely. We are both familiar with old school map reading, back-azimuths, route planning and everything to do with finding one’s way in unfamiliar terrain/geography.
The only map page that we do not have, is the page that covers this particular area, and we are using a GPS that does not appear to be “updating” or working correctly on this ridge! Jim turns the GPS off and on, resetting it. It simply keeps telling us to head North off the ridge. Hmm, I scout the trail that seems most likely to be correct. I travel about 2 miles on this trail and it descends in a Northerly direction consistent with what I expect would get us where we need to be. I head back up the trail and tell Jim and Brandon, it looks as good as any other trail heading North….so we head out.
About 2 miles down the very well established dirt road/trail…we hit a dead end. It simply stops. Brandon is very unhappy at this point, as he was physically done about an hour ago. We decide we need to get back to a known position (top of the ridge) and get our bearings before committing to another trail.

Well, the ride back up to the ridge is rocky, loose and a bit challenging. Brandon is so tired he stubbornly rides with almost reckless abandonment…and actually rides better! We backtrack on the ridge and then turn back East to again, follow the little line on the GPS that has the pre-loaded track for this ride. We head out and the GPS tells us to go left, down the ridge, very near where we had just tried.

It is smoking hot, we are tired, Brandon is whatever comes after dead-tired and we are getting low on water and fuel. We are also a good hour or two behind schedule and we will lose the sun in about 2 hours. I do not even remember how much time we wasted on that ridge…but it was at least a couple hours of riding here, turning back…going down hill, coming back up the hill. Here is the kicker…we are in Eastern WA! I mean, I can literally see 40 miles in damn near every direction! I can see a small town below us to the South, I can see 30 miles to the East…I believe I can actually see the main road a few miles to the North of us, that we will need to use to move NE to Ellensburg! We are not lost, we just cant get to where we need to go! It is sooooooooooooo frustrating!

At one point, we see a sign that tells us it is illegal to go further East on the ridge. We seriously consider disregarding this and blazing a trail off the end of the damn ridge! But, we decide against it. We finally decide to trust/follow what the GPS says. We take the nearest trail North off Umtanum Ridge, and we all agree we will need to commit to this trail as we won’t have the fuel, or time to screw around looking for an alternate trail.

I am sure Jim was as frustrated as I was, trying to figure out what we had done wrong…though this “trusting the GPS” thing is something neither of us liked. In fact the same GPS unit had thrown us for a loop or two on our previous TAT Ride.

We headed down and off Umtanum Ridge, and followed the trail for a mile or two as it became more and more “primitive”. Bad sign, as this trail should be very well travelled. It isn’t too long before we run into a roadblock…literally. Blocking Jim’s way is a very large tree fall traversing the entire trail. Unbelievable. That was not the word(s) that we used to describe our feelings at this point, but I try to keep these posts G rated. Brandon is ready to explode…I see it in his face, but he keeps it in.

We look around, and we can see we are entering a “draw” that is following a dried up creek . (A “draw” is simply the downhill low spot, bordered by a steep hill on either side…with both slanting downhill) It is going the right direction and we are losing elevation, so we simply commit to moving forward. We drag our 300 lb. motorcycles up and over some large tree’s/logs, then under another one. Given how hot and tired we are, this required a bit more energy than I care to admit. We mount up and ride slowly along the dry creek bed, hoping we don’t run into any more dead-fall. Another ¼ mile down the trail…yep, another dead-fall (trees that are mostly dead that have fallen)

Well, we are committed come hell or high water, so we half drag, half throttle the bikes over this latest obstacle. Another ¼ mile…another dead-fall. It is kicking or butts. At one point Jim has to wheelie his bike over a couple logs, after we drag the bikes under some more deadfall. He then has to wheelie Brandon’s bike up and over. I decide to sloppily wheelie mine to save Jim the trouble.

Hope that is the last freaking dead-fall….1/2 mile further…an even bigger dead-fall. Huge trees completely blocking the trail. we literally are laying our loaded motorcycle on their sides and squeezing them between the ground and the trees, dragging them across the ground for 10-15 feet at a time. It is so tiring and so ridiculous, it is almost funny! This is the only photo I took of our tedious journey down that draw...until we would stop for the night.  The look on Jim's face is a good representation of how tired we all felt. 

We continue along the trail and this goes on for another hour or so. It is grueling. It is starting to get dark and I keep wondering if we could just motor up the very steep sides of the ridges on either side of us. I ask Jim about it, and we agree, it would be a last resort, as someone might get hurt trying to escape in this manner, as the ridges are very, very steep. If someone fell, the rider and bike would tumble right back into the “draw” we are in.

By this time we are not even starting the bikes up; we simply let gravity pull us down the draw until the next dead-fall, saving gas. We are all out of water at this point and we are all sweating like crazy as we push, pull and try to ride our bikes under, over and across these damn fallen trees. We are all a bit dehydrated. The mood is less than joyful.

A bit further down the trail (we are making or own trail at this point, moving thru saplings and overgrowth) we hear the slightest trickle of water. We look off to our left and sure enough there is a tiny little stream…not even a stream. (It looked like someone had not completely shut the water off in a front yard hose) We decide to filter some of this water and drink/load up, even though it was going to take up more time. Jim gets the filter system out (brought it as a back up) and we start to fill up our respective camel packs. About 30 ounces in, the filter stops working. Are you kidding?!! We spent 20 minutes trying to fix it/figure it luck.  It is a stupidly simple siphon system…I don’t know how it could possibly not work!?!?

Brandon says he is done for the night. He will camp right where we stand. Jim says it would probably be a good idea to bed down in place for the night. I am not ready to do that. I hate not completing a plan and I was certain we could get out of this if we pushed on. I really wanted to continue, but when you are with a group, you have to consider the groups perspective/ideas. We grabbed some water and decided to simply boil it to use for our dehydrated meals. I had brought Iodine as a back up…to the back up, but it would be quicker to just sanitize the water by boiling it.

I wanted to see if we were close to getting out of this “draw” we were in, so I grabbed my flashlight (it was dark by now) and headed off to see what would be in front of us. As I walked, I ran into a few smaller trees across the trail, but there was room in each case to ride under or around these trees. about a mile later, it cleared up significantly, with just some scattered saplings and thick weeds in the “draw”. I was tired and not having seen an actually “end” to this “trail”, I turned back and reported my findings. If nothing else, it was good to know that we would not be facing the same type of large dead-fall that we had dealt with the past couple of hours.

As Brandon fired up his revolutionary (and admittedly cool) cook stove, that uses anything for fuel (sticks, leaves, wood whatever) and uses heat to actually move an induction fan to act as a bellows....I could not help but wonder how the hell we are lost in the most wide open part of the damn state!!?? It is terribly frustrating and a blow to one's ego. I mean, this is basic stuff!!! It was humbling to admit that we had navigated ourselves into such a silly situation. It reminded me of a couple TV shows I had seen where one or two tiny mistakes, led to someone being seriously lost, or dehydrated or injured etc. We were far from that kind of thing, but this was sobering...and embarrassing!

Oh well, deal with it in the morning. The one thing that we were not, was unprepared. We would toss up our tents, throw our sleeping bags in, and then boil up some water and get some food into our belly's. While the fire was being started, Jim, who had a splitting headache/wasn't feeling too good, lay down for a bit. I sat next to Brandon, staring at his hi-tech cook stove/fire maker! We had given him a lot of crap for buying this fancy shmancy thing, but I admitted right there and then that it was very nice to have. A fire of any kind/size, just seems to take the edge off at the end of a challenging day.
I moved to get up and wham....right quadriceps cramps up. I groan like a lame old man, and try to relax and sit back down to alleviate the pain. Hmmm, appears we are all suffering a bit from some mild dehydration. The whole situation is ridiculous, and admittedly a bit funny. Brandon an I chuckle about how stupid it is to be sitting in a ravine, hopelessly lost...while civilization is a mile or so away!

We get some food in us, and coax Jim out of his tent. He still feels like crap, likely just dehydrated, as I think he did the most work in helping get the bikes over and under stuff...and a couple times riding all three bikes around the toughest obstacles. We convince him to get some food down, and within the hour he is back to normal.

It is a beautiful night, and we sit around and talk about the days ride, but mostly about the last few hours. We talk about how if Brandon had brought a gun on this trip (He usually does)...that Jim and I would likely have been left for dead some miles back!  We talk about the fact that we must be close to getting out of draw we are in. We talk about people finding us dead 30 years from now...while they are hiking around. It's a light hearted discussion, even though an hour or two before we were all pissed about one thing or another.

It was relatively early so we sat up a good while before retreating to our tents. At this point, the days ride was at an end and we had re-hydrated and were setup for a decent nights sleep. Heck, tomorrow would be a new day, we will figure it out in the morning.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...I wake up about..ohhh 2 am or so...need to relieve myself. I grab my tiny flashlight and I swear I hear something. Is that someone talking??? Hmmm, I listen....nothing. I stumble out of my tent into the pitch black darkness thinking maybe I heard an animal or something, as there were game trails all over the area we are in. I listen....still nothing.

I walk a few yards away, and I hear Brandon start to yell!  I am thinking, “what the hell”?? I shine my flashlight over at his hammock, which is easy to see as it is exposed and simply tied off to two trees some 10 yards away. His hammock is moving and I start to wonder if there was an animal, maybe a deer or something over by his hammock. Brandon starts to thrash around, yelling and mumbling like he is literally fighting with someone or something...but I dont see anything around him, nothing!

A few moments later, all is quiet. Bad dream? I don’t know, but he scared the hell out of me! I forgot I had to pee! I finish my business and I go back to my tent. I think Jim says something to me, after hearing the commotion. I tell him, I think Brandon was dreaming or something. Who knows. As I crawl back into my warm sleeping bag, I can't help but laugh..what a weird and crazy day it had been!

Tomorrow will bring some answers and some revelations, but it is lights out for this longgggggg day. More to come.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

WABDR Adventure Ride Day 1

Day 1

After last years motorcycle adventure ride, I was ready to do it all over again in another place! Earlier this year, as I began to look at options for the next ride, I quickly realized just how hard it might be to do another ride on the scale of last years epic ride. Trying to plan a trip like this while living life, working, planning family vacations/time together....getting the time off from quite a difficult task, especially if you are planning for 3 or 4 persons instead of just 2.
This years ride was destined to be a bit closer to home, as it was going to be impossible to get more than 6 consecutive days off in a row, for the three of us that planned on making the trip. This year Brandon, a friend and work colleague, would be making the trip with Jim and I. Brandon is a novice rider and does not have a ton of seat time on his bike, but he took to his bike fairly quickly last year, in spite of never having ridden a motorcycle before! He was a little nervous, but alot excited.

After some conversing about where/when to go, it was decided that we would stay in our own “back yard” of WA and do the “WABDR” or Washington Back Country Discovery Route. This route was established as a motorcycle adventure ride “trail” of sorts. It traverses WA in a South to North direction from the Oregon border to Canada. It can be done in as little as 5 days or as many as 6 or so. Given our time constraint of 6 days, and the hindsight of wanting to slow down and enjoy the ride a bit more than we did on last years adventure, we decided to do 5 days and go from the Oregon border to about two thirds the way north to the town of Cashmere. Built into this time frame would be one extra day, should we have mechanical issues or wanted to venture off to explore on one of the days. So, it gave us 4 days to ride the trail, and the fifth day would be the ride home on hardball...west and then south, about 200 miles.

We decided to start the ride just across the Columbia River, in Oregon, at the “Bridge Of The Gods”. This is the symbolic beginning of the WABDR and the end of the OBDR. Seemed like a cool way to start the ride...if we could get someone to drive us and our bikes down there!! Well, as fate would have it, we had mentioned the ride to another friend/co-worker (Joe) and he was quite interested in going.  He surmised that his girlfriend could likely drive us down to the starting point using his truck/trailer.  The more the merrier...welcome aboard Joe!

A week or so before our ride was to take place, Joe is out on the freeway minding his own business and goes down on account of a very deep/abrupt edge on an “off ramp” due to a construction project. Joe has been riding motorcycles since he was a child and he told me, “I never saw it moment I'm riding, the next moment I'm on the ground with a truck and cars bearing down on me at 60 mph"! Well, to make a long story short, Joe is damn near killed/run over, but makes his way to the jersey barrier/median, but he is banged up pretty good from the fall itself. Bruised organs, punctured lung, broken ribs...the usual injuries associated with slamming into concrete. Needless to say, he was not healed enough to make the ride with us but he insisted on participating..and he agreed enthusiastically to chauffeur us down to our starting point at the Bridge Of The Gods. ( He actually grew up near that area)

So, the date is set, we have a ride down...we just need to give the bikes a once over, pack some gear and download the GPS Track for the ride/route. (This route uses electronic GPS tracks and very little old fashioned Map we would be relying on Jim's GPS...hmmmmm)

Our bikes were rock solid from last years ride prep and we are familiar with what we need to bring as we had figured that out/tweaked it last time around. We would be camping/tenting it 3 nights of the 4, and staying one night in a time-share that Brandon was able to arrange with his in-laws. (in Leavenworth, WA)

When the day arrived, Joe was at my house at about 7am...much earlier than I am used to being up...but we wanted an early start. Jim rode his bike from Port Orchard, all geared up/ready to go and Brandon got dropped off. All accounted for!! We had the bikes loaded onto Joe's trailer in short order and we were on our way down Interstate 5 before you knew it.
In a few hours we were unloading and gearing up for our ride. We thanked Joe for getting us there and we fired up the bikes. We could see the starting point some 80 feet above us. The bridge is actually quite high for an old bridge. It is a steel grate bridge, the kind you can look down thru the deck/see the water. Cool!

This trip would add the dimension of some helmet mounted video. Sandi had bought me a very nice little “Go Pro” HD video cam to chronicle some of my rides and it was along for the ride, though I was just getting used to using it/figuring it out etc.

As the guys were paying the bridge toll, I clicked on the Go Pro, and we all made our way from Oregon...across the bridge Of The Gods into Stevenson, WA...the start of our latest adventure ride!

We crossed the bridge, moving strangely left a bit, then right a the grating of the bridge sort of steered us with a mind of its own! It was a bit weird, but I had crossed others like it...Brandon had not, and was justifiably freaked out by the sensation! We then made our way along a paved, primary road that would lead us to the dirt road we would turn left onto, to get us into the back country. It was a nice little warm up for the bikes as well as us, and we were soon turning onto our first dirt road.

We were on our way...riding some pretty easy, winding dirt roads...surrounded by dense green trees and the occasional mountain view thru the trees. The air was warm and you could smell the forest, as well as the dirt/dust in my case, as I was pulling up the rear! Jim would be leading this trip as he had the best GPS unit, Brandon would stay between Jim and I as he had no maps, or GPS!

Today’s ride would be mostly uneventful. We would see glimpses of some meadows and a rare view or two of the backside of Mt St Helens...but mostly we just enjoyed a very quiet ride among the dense trees, enjoying the good weather and the twisting, mostly smooth gravel. We stop and take a few breaks, have lunch along the route, which consists of a Lara Bar and some water in my case, and we ride on.
Jim had a little excitement when a Dragonfly entered his helmet as he was doing about 45 mph on some pavement...Brandon kinda wondered why he was swerving...and then suddenly pulled onto the shoulder of the road!  By the time I got there, Jim was holding the Dragonfly that he had murdered!  Better him than me!  Our "open face" helmets work really well for our type of riding, but it does leave some wide open space for bee's and ...well Dragonflies!
  We made our way pretty quickly towards Packwood, WA after several hours of riding.  As we rolled into the tiny town of Packwood, which is just a bit Northeast of Mt St Helens, we saw that there was a "Flea Market" setup throughout the small town.  It looked rather "trashy", but the shops and tents were all closing at this point, as it was probably almost 7 pm when we rolled in.  We had been riding for a good 7-8 hours at this point and we were dusty/dirty and hungry.  First order of business was to get some water in us, as the dry, dusty conditions seemed to suck the moisture out of you.  Second, we needed to find a campsite/place to throw our tents up etc. 

Well, we grabbed some water, and some snacks to eat...then started to look around for a place to camp for the night.  Well, this turned out to be more difficult than we thought, as it was a Holiday weekend and the campsites that we patiently rode thru, were literally all full.  By this, it was dark and we were looking thru campgrounds with our less than quite bikes...headlights blinding campers as we looked for that elusive site.  Not happening.  At this point we were ready to simply find some trees on the side of the road, and camp in a ditch!

We rolled east on Highway 12 until we saw a trail/dirt road that looked untraveled and lo and dead ended into a clearing of sorts.  We surveyed the spot with our headlights lighting the way...looked like a place teenagers would come to drink, smoke pot...and tell tall tales to each other...perfect!

We setup our tents by flashlight/Super Sherpa headlight, built a small fire and settled down to hydrate our dehydrated meals.  Ahhhhhhhhhh...always feels good to get near a warm fire at the end of a journey.  We talked a bit about the days ride...agreeing that it had been pretty smooth and a nice/easy first day.  We knew we needed to get an early start the next morning, so it wasn't long before we hit the sack and got some much needed rest.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

3rd Annual Cider Fest !

As the fall season settled in, it was once again time to celebrate the interim season between summer and winter. It had been unusually rainy in the weeks prior to our 3rd annual cider pressing event and I hoped that it would be dry the day we got together.

As luck would have it, the day of the get together was dry and clear, but unseasonably cold! Good thing Jim has a huge fire pit!!! This year brought a few new people to the event as Jim and Brandon now worked on a different Squad. In this business, with Shift work and people moving around to different positions and squads, there is always someone leaving the squad or joining the squad. When that happens, you just expand the group and welcome some new friends to the recurring events!

This years event also brought with it a desire of some to bring out the gas operated toys that many of us seem to enjoy. Jim lives on a large property that has a large field perfect for ripping around on quads or motorcycles etc. When I heard a few guys were going to bring out their toys to goof around on, I decided I would ride my Super Sherpa to the event! It had been a while since I had fired it up (Our summer Adventure Ride…soon to be posted) and it didn’t seem thattttttttt cold?! Besides, I had replaced the stalk mounted turn signals with flush mount lights, re-jetted the carburetor and installed new handle bars, so I wanted to check it out/show it off!

So once everyone was ready…the empty one gallon jugs and the Crockpot full of Sandi’s Puerto Rican Beans/Ham was loaded, I headed out wearing jeans and a light jacket, following my daughter Veronica, who volunteered to drive/chauffer her boyfriend Steven and Sandi to the event. Steven had only heard “stories” of the past two Annual Cider Fests, but had never experienced it.

We got out of the City and onto State Route 16 heading west. Jim lives some 30+ minutes away on the Olympic Peninsula, in the town of Port Orchard. Close to the water, and significantly more rural than Tacoma, it is a nice area that still has a “traditional” feel to it. At about 55-60 mph it wasn’t long before I thought, hey…its pretty cold!!! Well, I was committed at this point, so I just summoned up the stubborn side of myself and motored along at 60 mph quickly losing sight of my daughter, who was doing 65 or so. I thought, “Ehhh I will catch up to them later”.

30 minutes later, after getting off the freeway and forgetting which turn to take to get to Jim’s, I called my daughter Veronica so I could meet up and follow them. Several minutes later I caught up to them and it wasn’t long before we were on the winding road that Jim lives on.

I was trailing my daughters clean and shiny BMW as it wound its way along this curvaceous road. Unlike many parts of western Washington, where evergreen trees are the rule, leafy trees lined this winding road and they were literally dropping their red and yellow leaves as we made or way west. As I watched the leaves falling thru the blue sky, with the BMW whisking thru the dry leaves on the roadway…clearing them out and then almost pulling them along behind the car as I followed behind, I would have swore I was watching a BMW commercial. Heck, I almost forgot I was freezing! That last 2 miles was a very pretty drive. Wish I had thrown the Go Pro Cam on my helmet!

We arrived and unloaded our chairs, beans and empty gallon jugs and we saw that there were a couple of Quads and a tiny, little motorcycle ready to be ridden or crashed…depending on how you looked at it.

We all enjoyed some delicious potluck, made some introductions and then slowly…first the kids…then some of the adults…began to try out the cool motorized toys. A few people took a spin on the smaller Quad…then gave their friend or significant other a ride….then the bigger Quad got ridden and finally a few people started trying out the tiny motorcycle that had been brought along by Steve.
 Well, the bike was small…50cc’s but had 3 speeds and a pretty potent motor that Steve had mechanically limited so that his son wouldn’t kill himself as he learned to ride it. This is NOT the 50cc “mini bikes” that some of us rode in the 60’s etc.!!

Well a few people took that little bike for a spin, and were immediately surprised at how powerful this diminutive little motorcycle was! Everyone agreed it was a bad ass little motorcycle! When I later took it for a quick spin, it amazed me when I took off in 1st gear and effortlessly popped the front tire off the ground. (Steve had warned me to start in 2nd gear)

Well, it wasn’t long before our friend Chelsea wanted to take the little bike for a spin. Now I don’t remember if it was before she got comfortable with it, or after, ….I think before, but I do recall her putting it in first gear and giving it a bit of gas only to watch in horror as the bike wheeleeeiiiiied away …her hands still on the grips as it took off from underneath her.   I remember thinking, hmmmm she should let go of that bike!  She didn’t……well not until the little bike had dragged her to the ground, escaping her grasp and scaring the hell out of her before finding the only nearby Quad to crash into! It was a spectacular, yet somehow minor crash as Chelsea was fine...and so was the bike. Nothing like the possibility of serious injury to spice up an event!

About this time a few of us noticed we were losing daylight and it would be dark in a couple hours, so we got setup for the annual “Pressing of The Apples”!!   Every time I see the perfectly restored apple press, I admit, I get a little jealous. It really is a cool piece of machinery.

The temperature had dipped quite a bit as the sun made its way west and by this time there were a number of people seated around the very large fire pit, which had a large and welcoming fire going. So, while some sat around enjoying the hot, crackling fire, others were cranking the cider press and/or tossing apples in….or holding the press steady as we ground up… and then pressed the apples…ultimately allowing us to fill our empty gallon containers with cold, crisp cider!
I think the group ended up with about 20 gallons of cider this year. The apples ranged from Honey Crisp to Braeburn to Fuji and Granny Smith….with some of them being mixed to get “just the right” sweet to tart ratio. We enjoyed passing around cups of the different apple ciders and giving each other a hard time about getting tired so quickly while cranking that big iron gear on the side of the press. I admit, it doesn’t take long to get a bit winded cranking that thing!

After we had pressed the last 40 lb box of apples, we made a “toast”. “To good times, good friends, and good Apple Cider”! We “clinked” our little paper cups of cider together and enjoyed the last batch of sweet cider.

After a little cleanup, it was time to pack up and head out. It had been an enjoyable, albeit chilly day and I think most were ready to get the car heaters going and warm up on their way home!

Oh yeah….I had a couple of offers to “keep my motorcycle” or “put it in the back of a truck” so I wouldn’t have to ride home, as it was pretty damn cold at this point. I had almost forgotten I had ridden the motorcycle...dammit!  I decided (again) it wouldn’t be that bad. After crossing the Narrows Bridge and feeling the chill off the water below as I entered Tacoma, I concluded I had been wrong…..AGAIN!
Nothing a HOT cup of Spiced Cider won't remedy!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Garage Portraits

Some time back, after I bought my economical and dated DSLR, I said I would post the results in the form of a few portraits. (Which is the main reason I picked it up)  Well, I have not done as many portraits as I would have liked over the past year or so, but I did get an opportunity to photograph a few different people, for a few different reasons/purposes.

Now, a few posts back, you will see that I shot a few "Natural Light" portraits (so to speak) of my daughter.  These certainly show how the DSLR is able to throw the background out of focus so as to make the subject stand out.  The photo of my daughter sitting on the railroad tracks is a classic, full body portrait and illustrates the "depth of field" that really only a DSLR can capture. 

Now, when I picked up the DSLR, I was also thinking about doing some portraits using some simple "studio lighting".  Truth is, I used to do this more often in my early days of photography, and I really enjoyed it, as it allows one to really get a handle on how the light interacts with one's subject.  I also like how "sharp" photos look with this type of light. 

I have always been a bit obsessed with the "sharpness" of my a fault if the truth be told.  I think it might have to do with not having perfect vision....and perhaps appreciating a high degree of sharpness, or its simply another one of my strange obsessions.  Come to think of it, I like strong, primary colors too....and I have a bit of color blindness....hmmm.  Yeah its vision oriented, not obsession!   See!  Whew!

Where was I?  Oh yes, so...I had a little extra money I had earned working off duty, so I looked for a simple and very economical way to setup a studio.  Now, when I say "studio", of course most people think Yen Lui or a variety of "Last Name" studios that have fancy backdrops, 6 light setups, and nice wood floors etc.  Well, that is neither economical, nor simple.  I wanted something I could setup in the garage, in about 10-15 minutes, that would produce quality light and thus...quality head and shoulders portraits. 

So, the search was on.  The internet is full of practical setups, makeshift equipment, good ideas and the like.  It is also full of really cool AC studio lights, color filters, expensive backgrounds...a guy could get lost and spend a thousand bucks and still be left wanting for more!

 I found a very interesting website simply called "The Strobist". Now I thought I knew all about strobes and the harsh light they produce, the cords you need to synch up the flash(es) and the need to soften them with a soft box and/or an umbrella etc.  I mean, it hasn't been that long since I used them.....hmmm, or has it!   I was thinking about strobes and flash guns that I used back in...well...a long time ago lets say!  It seems they have come a long way in both performance and price.

The more I read, the more I discovered how far compact strobe lights have come.  I am talking about the strobes you slip onto the hot shoe of your camera, or use "off camera" albeit, completely manual ones. (No TTL here)  Long story short, I was able to pick up two decent strobes, two umbrellas to shoot thru, a reflector board (think poster board for your high school class) and couple of radio triggers (to remotely trigger the strobes) for about 170.00 bucks!  That is what my last high quality strobe cost by itself?!  I added to that short list, a very cool product that allows me to slip colored "gels" (think cellophane) over the head of my flash and simply splash that color onto my light grey paper background, making it any color I desire.  Cost of that little kit??...20 bucks!!

Needless to say, the cheapskate part of me was quite happy to have gotten all these things so cheaply.  I still needed a backdrop though.  Well as I eluded to a moment ago, I picked up a long roll of light grey paper, and I put it on a piece of PVC tubing I got from Home Depot for 5 bucks, and chained it to the ceiling in the garage.  I had a small wooden stepladder that would work as a sitting stool for the time being...soooo...I was ready to go!  Under 200.00 dollars and I had the makings of a truly portable and simple studio lighting setup.

I learned long ago, after a lot of picture taking, that how things look around the person you are photographing, is simply unimportant. (unless the scene around the person is telling a story/is part of the picture you want)  Studio portraiture is much like a painters can be less than inviting and tidy and still produce a wonderful product!  The photo below shows just how lame my little studio looks...I mean, it's my garage for crying out loud! (Sweet carpet though huh?  You know you like it!)  Yeah, I have carpet in my garage...I like to wear socks in there during the winter, so shut up.

It is a simple setup using what is referred to as "Butterfly" or "Paramount" style lighting.  It is really a one light setup and in this case I have an additional "background" light separating the subject from the background, and at the same time throwing some color onto the background as well.  The "radio trigger" is attached to one of the strobes and the other has a sensor that picks up the flash and fires simultaneously. (Told you they have come a long way!)  The board under the front umbrella simply fills in the shadows cast by the umbrella light.  And the camera?  It is hand held and I shoot thru the opening between the umbrella and the reflector board.

Here is what it looks like for the model/subject.

So a little "posing" and "chin up" direction and we are shooting portraits!

The portrait below was a practice session to test the lighting and the placement of the lights/reflector board.  That's my wife Sandi cheesing it up for the camera!  You can see how "clean" the lighting is and how sharp, yet flattering this particular setup is.  I came in very close and focused attention on just her face.  On a portrait, the eyes are everything and they must be clear and sharp.  As you can see here, her eyes are just that.  Looks fantastic.

The next portrait (below) is the result of a friend (Alicia)  asking if I could do a portrait suitable for a business profile.  Specifically, a financial business profile for her workplace/website etc..  She had a few requirements and limitations regarding backgrounds etc., so we decided on a plain grey background and business attire that she would normally wear.  We selected a pose that was feminine, yet still projected a confident "business" look.  I am pretty critical of myself and I think we really pulled off a nice, natural portrait here.

The last portrait here was done for one of my wife's clients.  She wanted a "profile" photo for personal use.  She had seen a couple of photos that I had done recently and asked if I would take a few portrait shots of her.  The background color was coincidentally very similar to the one I used for Sandi, but it was chosen in this case, to specifically match the color of the blouse that she was wearing.

 I always liked when Cosmopolitan Magazine would do this with their cover photos.  If you go back and look, they started a trend in which the background would match the color of the persons attire on their cover shots.  It was a very slick and appealing setup, that I copied in this case.  The only other thing I had to worry about with this subject, was her glasses.  It can be a real pain sometimes, to reduce or eliminate glare when you are firing off powerful strobe lights aimed at your subject.  In this case, we really liked the frontal positioning of Sandy's face and we avoided any glare, giving us a very attractive, clean and accurate (because she always wears her glasses) portrait.

So, there you have budget DSLR, some modest equipment and a less than glamorous garage studio.  In the end, it is all about the photo...and this little setup produced some really nice portraits, of some very lovely ladies! 


Monday, June 10, 2013

Graduation Day

What a happy, sad, joyful and reflective day this was.  The feelings I had during the Graduation Ceremony actually took me by surprise. 

Here are a few photos in chronological order from arrival at the school, to Veronica and her boyfriend Steven, getting ready to drive away from MRLH for the last time.

The end of one journey, the start of another. 

Congratulations Veronica! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Class Of 2013

2013...Wow!  I remember when I was in High School...back when the earth was still cooling.  The year "2000" seemed like just another Sci-Fi movie title.

When I graduated (much to the relief of my Parents) and walked across the platform and clumsily tried to shake a hand and grab my diploma with the other hand...little did I know (or even think about) at the time, that I would someday be the Father of a young lady, taking that same walk.

Veronica will be graduating in a couple weeks, and as part of the preparation, we put together her Announcement, or Graduation Party Invitation...or both...or whatever it's called!  It included a montage of 6 photos, one of which shows her at age 5 or so, the others were taken by me during a couple of Senior Picture "photo shoots" that we did over the past several months.

I thought I would post a few of the "Senior" pictures well as her Graduation Party Invitation...and yes you are invited!

Veronica, Class of 2013.