On Pooping. And Snakes.

The following information may be considered… oversharing. Should I ever run for political office, I’m sure this will be used as part of a vicious smear campaign. That being said, I find it interesting that something we’ve managed to do for thousands of years has become so complicated. That something is pooping. Specifically, pooping in the woods. The modern outhouse and toilet paper (or “bathroom tissue” as it’s known so as not to offend anyone) is a relatively modern invention. In a short span of time, modern society has become horrified at the idea of dropping trou in the outdoors and letting ‘er rip. I know people that when confronted this situation will become instant poop camels and hold it in for the better part of a week to avoid exposing one’s buttocks to the breeze.

This is not me. My intestines run like the German train system. Orderly, on-time, and on a precise schedule. It’s all good unless that schedule is interrupted. If the trains get backed up, anarchy and chaos soon follow. The unhappy commuters rapidly begin to send more and more urgent messages that the trains need to get back on schedule ASAP. Trust me, we like to keep the trains running on time.

Which brings me to the woods. I’m not one of those folks opposed to pooping in the kiltwoods. It can be downright peaceful at times. There are of course the positional challenges. Leaning against a tree, lean back holding on to a tree, sitting over a log, or the traditional squat and hope your aim avoids the trousers bunched up around the ankles. There are times the Scottish kilt in the backcountry has its advantages. As fascinating as all this may be, it is not my point. My point is snakes.

If you know me, you’d know that I have an unnatural fear and adversarial relationship with snakes. This wouldn’t be a problem if I was a librarian, but unfortunately I like the outdoors. Snakes have a tendency to live in the outdoors. This is an issue. Which brings me to my latest encounter. I recently got back from a long river trip to a remote area that, coincidently, is infested with rattlesnakes. Even though snake fears kept me from getting out of the boat unless absolutely necessary, I was having a great time until midway through the trip. After unloading all the gear and getting camp ready, I sat down in my chair to enjoy an adult beverage when I heard something in the grass. A large snake slithered by, not six inches from my foot. My river mates commented that I have an impressive vertical leap for someone my age. A little girl scream may or may not have been uttered, but that detail will stay on the river.

Which brings me back to my original point. As I sat in my tent that night, refusing to come out for dinner, it dawned on me that if I wanted to keep the trains on schedule I was going to have to wander through the snake infested grass and rocks first thing in the morning. absFaced with two undesirable choices, keeping the trains on schedule or being chased by snakes, there was little sleep that night. I made the only choice a rational person would make – I went into camel mode. No coffee, no breakfast, little water. Thank god I’ve been diligent with the ab machine. The cramping became bearable after a while. Major fist-bump to the ladies if this is what the monthly visitor is like.

The fatal mistake came on the second evening of operation anhalten der Deutsche Bahn. Succumbing to hunger pangs, I ate one of those freeze-dried backpacker meals. While they may be tasty going down, they impart a certain… urgency to the train schedule. Early that next morning, with a pounding heart and clenched cheeks, I made my way into the woods to perform a ritual our ancestors have done for thousands of years. Who knew my heart rate could sustain 200 bpm for so long? Fortunately for me this story has a happy ending. Like a Christmas morning miracle there were no snakes and the trains were back on schedule. It’s rumored I may have had a skip to my step when exiting the woods.

My point? As usual, I’ve forgotten. Maybe it’s that snake chaps are a real thing. And that I own a pair. Now to figure out how to wear them with the outdoor kilt. Under or over?

[Upon opening the Well of the Souls and peering down]
Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indiana: Give me your torch.
[Indy takes the torch and drops it in]
Indiana: Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?
Sallah: Asps… very dangerous. You go first.

Neville Flynn: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
[the terrified passengers on the plane turn to Neville]


It’s Getting Hot In Here

I’m down in Palm Springs visiting family. It’s not my first time here so I shouldn’t be surprised by this, but… it’s hot. Early May and it’s reaching the upper 90’s by afternoon. That’s degrees for my European friends. I don’t know what that it is in celsius. Somewhere around 275 I think. I never could figure out all those zeros and decimal places with the metric system. I remember the “metric unit” in grade school. There was some sort of national push in the 70’s to convert the US to metric. I think there was some sort of uprising by 4th graders at the time. Rioting in the lunch room and sit-in’s on the playground convinced the president to abandon metric. Thank god. A royal with cheese just isn’t the same thing.

Anyway, it’s hot. Not surprising since it’s the desert and life isn’t supposed to exist here. Take a gazillion gallons of water from Northern California via the Colorado river, build approximately 20,000 golf courses and viola! You have a thriving city. What’s funny about the population here (besides the wacky golf clothes) is how they treat the heat. One of two things happens. This time of year when it’s merely hot and not melting your eyeballs they all say, “oh but you should have been here last week. It was absolutely beautiful! It’s a little warm, but when that valley wind howls through and blows all the sand off the patio it’s really lovely out.” Everyone lives in a state of weather denial. Sure it’s hot now, but there’s approximately 6 days in January  and a few in February when it’s perfect.

The second state of mind happens in about a month when temps reach 115+ (2,300 in celsius). The residents seem to take it as a badge of honor. “You think this is hot? Last August it got so hot all the rubber hoses in my car melted while I was driving to the mall.” Comparing AC bills seems to be some sort of desert living status symbol. The house I’m in has not one, but three AC units. Not joking, I wear a sweater (cute v-neck!) in the house to ward off hypothermia. Walk outside and you get hit in the chest with heat that rivals an iron smelting factory. Remember to bring your jacket to the mall because the temp inside will be subarctic. It’s amazing more old folks aren’t dropping off left and right from pneumonia.

When viewed from the comfort of your living room, it truly is a gorgeous setting. The beautiful San Jacinto mountains, lush green golf courses, faux spanish/Mediterranean/San Diego architecture, acres of high-end shopping to rival Beverly Hills, all combine to make a special place. A place too hot for rattlesnakes. Given my unnatural fear of snakes, maybe I should give this area a second thought? Hmm, no. Bermuda shorts just aren’t flattering on my figure.

Mt. El Sombroso Photos

The Sierra Azul (“Blue Range”) is an open space preserve in the South Bay region of Santa Clara County. At 18,400 acres, it’s the largest preserve in the district. The area is dominated by Mt. Umunhum, a 3,486 foot peak capped by the “blue cube” the former Almaden Air Force Station. This station was part of the early warning radar network of the 1950’s. Now closed and abandoned the entire are around Umunhum is unfortunately closed to the public. Due to the closure the next best peak is Umunhum’s sister peak, Mt. El Sombroso.

The summit of Mt. El Sombroso at 2,999 feet is a 12.3 mile round trip hike. Primarily fire road, it meanders through deep forest cover for much of the hike. The last few miles of the hike you’ll earn your summit – the gradient turns steep, covered in loose shale, and most of it is spent in direct sun. Hot and tired you’re rewarded with sweeping views of San Jose and the entire South Bay basin. If you have a clear day you’ll be able to spot Mt. Hamilton across the valley.

Almaden Air Force Station

Sierra Azul Open Space

Mt. El Sombroso

Spanish Inquisition, Indigenous Peoples, And Lunch

It’s a beautiful day for a February, so a quick road trip to shake off some cabin fever seemed in order. Just a few miles down the road is one of California’s original Spanish Missions – San Juan Bautista. I’ve lived here for much of my life and never visited. Shame on me I guess. All due respect to the Spanish and the catholic church, but I don’t get the need to convert the indigenous peoples. It’s the Western/European way I guess. Besides, what’s a few cases of measles in exchange for tax paying, productive citizens? Anyway, hop in the truck and head South down highway 101 and turn off on 156 East. The hills are gloriously green and the outside temperature is a perfect sixty five degrees. Hard to believe it’s winter.

San Juan Bautista is a tiny little town of a just a few streets. The mission is clearly the only game in town and a handful of tired looking trinket and gift stores dot the main street, all trying to capitalize on the few tourists that visit. The mission was founded in 1797 and is the largest of the California missions. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Perhaps something more museum-like. They request a $4 per person donation, payable at the dusty, dark gift shop. I assumed there’d be exhibits and displays with plenty of placards and such describing life in the mission during its heyday. What was there were a handful of rooms, virtually nothing to describe the history, and just a few dusty display cases.

I know, I’m a spoiled westerner and expect info to be handed to me with minimal effort on my part. Realistically to maximize the experience you need to have a guide book of some sort to help provide info on the history of the mission. Since I didn’t research beforehand it was pretty much just an old building. I spent some time looking for the torture rooms without luck. I could have been off a few centuries on that, but really – what’s the point of forcibly converting people if you’re not going to hold the miscellaneous tribunal here and there?

Having exhausted the available history of the mission we decided the next best thing would be lunch. Nothing much seemed viable here, so we headed to beautiful downtown Hollister. Its famous motorcycle rally was the basis for the film “The Wild One” and they claim to be the “Birthplace of the American biker”. Apparently bikers don’t come out in February, even in weather this nice. Farm workers clearly are the predominate population. Not much going on in historic downtown Hollister. A few cafes, tattoo parlors, and a couple of closed art galleries. We found a cafe that served a pretty good sandwich. With food in the belly it seemed like a good time wander home.

Mission accomplished (no pun intended). Saw a California landmark before we leave the state. Didn’t expend too much energy (need to save for tomorrow’s Super Bowl festivities). Packed on a few more calories just in case we’re abducted by aliens. Oh, and took a few pictures:

Moab winter adventure

This summer I read about Wall Arch collapsing at Arches National Park in Utah.  That got me thinking that I’d sure like to see the remaining arches before they fall.  Laura and I decided that would be this year’s holiday adventure.

Saturday – Left early in the morning and drove 518 miles to Las Vegas.  Stayed at the Palms Casino.  Nice rooms, horrible food at the restaurants.  Didn’t win millions so we still have to work.

Sunday – Drove 460 miles to Moab Utah.  The scenery on the drive through Southeastern Arizona and then Utah was spectacular.  It snowed pretty significantly the week before, so the snow covered canyons were really something.  After arriving at Moab we turned on SR 128 and drove 17 miles up a narrow canyon that followed the Colorado river.  The sun was setting so the colors were simply amazing.  We stayed at what used to be a working ranch, now the Sorrel River Ranch on the banks of the river.  Our room was in a small cabin away from the main lodge.  The food, staff, and accommodations were great.

Monday – It snowed quite a bit overnight and there were still a few flurries when we woke up.   Temps were in the high 20’s.  The weather looked iffy for the day but we decided to at least see some of the park before the storm got worse.  The drive back out the 17 miles through the canyon was a little slow as the plows hadn’t cleared the roads yet.  At the park the ranger advised us not to head down to delicate arch as the road wasn’t plowed and it was pretty steep.  We stuck to the front area of the park… Balancing rock, the Windows, Turret Arch, petrified sand dunes, etc…  By about 3pm the storm was getting worse so we decided to call it a day.

Tuesday – Snow again overnight, but blue skies when we woke up.  Today was the big hike day.  The goal was to do the primitive loop, and then Delicate arch.  We first hiked out to Landscape arch.  Pretty amazing that it remains standing as thin and long as it is.  We then hiked about a mile or so down the primitive loop only to run into a sign indicating the trail was closed.  We turned back and then started down the Eastern side of the loop so we could see the Fins.  A stop for lunch, then hiked down to Pine Tree and Tunnel arches.  Back to the car and then drove down to the Delicate Arch trailhead.  After the miles we did previously, the hike to Delicate arch put a little strain on the legs.  About half of it is an uphill climb up slickrock and then eventually a narrow snow ledge.  The view looking across at the arch is really something.  Late afternoon sun turned the rocks an amazing reddish pink color.  We hiked back down to the car and then did one last stop at the Fiery Furnace overlook.   We finished off the day with a stop at the Moab Brewery (yes, alcohol in Utah!).

Wednesday – We had a third day of hiking scheduled for several secluded canyons.  We spent several hours agonizing over the weather.  That night and Thursday a significant storm was scheduled to blow in and we were worried about making the drive back to Vegas on Christmas day in a large storm.  The hotel manager agreed that it wouldn’t be the wisest move to drive in that storm and refunded us our room for that night (very nice of him since he had no obligation to do so!).  We cut our hiking short by one day and drove back to sin city.

Thursday – Spent the day at the casino, relaxed, drove out to the Hoover dam, saw a movie, and still didn’t win millions.

Friday – Drove back home.  Took 99 instead of I-5 this time.  Still can’t decide which is better drive.  Another great trip and we’re both glad we saw most of the famous arches.  There’s so much to see and do in the Moab area we could easily spend another week there.

Velma Lakes trip

This past weekend we headed out for a tune-up backpacking trip to Desolation Wilderness.  The destination was Middle Velma lake.  The purpose was (other than the obvious R&R) to test out the new tent and pack for the pending Mt. Whitney trip.  I selected the route to be a fitness-check on a semi-representative Whitney elevation gain and distance.
Thursday   Left town mid-afternoon for South Lake Tahoe.  Starting about Sacramento the smoke from the 100’s of California wildfires was unbelievable.  It was like driving through a thick fog with limited visibility.   Once in South Lake I was pretty bummed – one of the reasons to visit Desolation Wilderness is the gorgeous views and it looked like that was shot.  Stayed at the Inn by the Lake.  Not the best, not the worst.  Would stay there again when looking for something cheaper than the Casinos.  Had a quick dinner and walked around a bit.   Nephew enjoyed the idea of standing on the California/Nevada state line.
Friday   Woke up and almost all the smoke was gone.  Whoo-hooo!  Big breakfast at the Red Hut Cafe and off to the Eagle Falls Trailhead.  Hit the trail about 10am.  This hike starts with about 2000 ft of elevation gain in just over 2 miles.  Everyone did great – especially my nephew who was a real trooper for the entire hike.  Arrived at Middle Velma mid-afternoon tired and hungry.  Mosquitoes arrived promptly at dusk and required full bug-hats and liberal applications of Deet.
Saturday  Fishing in the morning.  No luck.  LLW and I did a day hike in the afternoon to Fontanillis lake and on towards Dicks Pass.  Very pretty and a fun stream crossing that had Laura a bit nervous.  Back to camp to relax, eat, play "I spy" with the nephew, and battle mosquitoes.  A good day.
Sunday  A relaxing breakfast and packed up camp.  We made good time since there was only about 500 ft of elevation gain going back.  It helped that the nephew had his heart set on lunch at Red Hut again.  They close at 2pm, so there was motivation to make it back to the car in time.  Everyone did well, but certainly tired.  Two days of climbing and hiking took it out of my legs.  Made it to Red Hut in time and then an uneventful drive home – back in time for dinner.
A good trip and I think LLW will be willing to do more backpacking as long we do plenty of motorhome time as well.

Petaluma KOA

We needed a little down-time this past weekend, so we took the MH to the Petaluma KOA campground.  I was a little leery of a KOA campground, but it turned out to be pretty nice.  The sites were wider than most places we’ve been.  Mostly gravel with some grass in between sites.  Easy to navigate the turns in the park and most sites are pull-through.  The camp area itself is nestled in the trees so there was plenty of shade.  Sewer and hook-ups were well maintained.  Plenty of channels on the provided cable hook-up (too many trees to use the satellite).  The campground is definitely geared towards families – lots of kids running around.  We’d certainly consider going again if we wanted a quick weekend getaway that was close.
We relaxed on Friday, and took the motorcycle to Sonoma on Saturday since there wasn’t any decent hiking anywhere nearby.  A good, relaxing weekend.