Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oh Wow. Look at the Moon

Stepping on to my balcony to scan the pre-dawn sky I catch the fleeting image of a waning crescent moon as it disappears behind some fast-moving clouds.  What I saw was pretty--early morning crescent moons always are--so I wait to see if I get another look.  The clouds look pretty dense against the dark sky but after a couple of minutes patch of light appears in the dark and soon the crescent was visible again.

This morning's crescent is a delicate sliver of light on the edge of the moon's disc which is darkly illuminated by earthshine.  A very light haze gives the sky a soft focus so the crescent's image is gentle stark.  The look is suitable for a morning crescent.  It holds my interest.  I scan the separation between light and dark on the disc.  I follow the deep curve of of light and linger on its points, happy just to see this moon and morning sky.

The clouds return.  Slowly at first, hiding then revealing some or all of the crescent.  A brief final tease before dropping the curtain on this performance. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

An October Day Hike

09 October 1978.  South of Reed's Gap, Virginia.  The mountains are gorgeous on this early fall day.  The leaves have started to turn color; patches of yellow and rust dot the forest.  A brilliant red or crimson is visible here and there as isolated trees display their fall colors ahead of the crowd.  Below the canopy, the woods are a soft yellow and green, alternating sunlight and shadow.  Yellows and reds dot the foliage across the forest floor.  From my perch I can see the many folds of the Blue Ridge to the southwest.  The Shenandoah Valley is to my north, I can see a small sliver of it between the ridges.  I bask in the warm sun and experience the quiet.  A lone woodpecker knocks intermittently on a tree.  Leaves rustle in the breeze.  I can hear vehicles in the valley below and the occasional people sound.  Good day for a trip.  Good day to be alive.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Taking Stock After Three Years

At the Speed of Foot was published three years ago this month.  I made some marketing effort early on but lack of response and my natural disinclination for self-promotion meant that the entire project has been mostly on autopilot since that initial burst of enthusiasm.  The decreasing frequency of posts to this blog are testament to growing inertia.

That said, Speed of Foot has met my expectations.  Sales have been respectable:  162 Kindle editions and 46 paperbacks.  I assume Kindle buyers are mostly strangers.  Virtually all paperback sales are to people I know.  I've recovered about two-thirds of my costs which is good enough for me.  I never expected a best seller. 

Reviews have been generally good.  I posted some early comments from friends.  Three of four Amazon reviews gave me four stars.  The fourth gave me one star.  Reading that review conjured up all the doubts I had as a writer and I knew for sure that my sketches were elementary.  But if I had waited for perfect, Speed of Foot would still be a manuscript. Beyond the images, the sketches represent time taken to think and see the trail and its environment.  All that is part of the book, some of which I present better than others.

Writing the book was an adventure in itself.  It required as much discipline and frustration as the actual thru-hike.  Parts of it had rattled around my brain from the earliest days on the trail.  I had always thought that the insights and cumulative experiences would be the focus rather than a south-to-north trail journal but I found that I needed the linear progression to carry the narrative.  With more time and effort maybe I could figured out a better approach but I was ready to be done with the project.

Except that publication meant marketing.  That's where I began this post and will wrap it up there.  The simplest way to summarize my thinking about Speed of Foot is that I wanted to write the story, I did, and I am happy with the results. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hoh River, Olympic National Park

Spent four days in the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park last week under clear, sunny skies.  Maggie and I camped at the campground adjacent to the visitor center and the Hoh River.  We planned to stay one night and then head for a more remote area along the Quinault River but the Hoh was peaceful, pretty and relaxing.  We had plenty to do and saw no need to move to any other place.

The Hoh River is in a wide, rocky channel easily accessible from the campground.  The rapidly flowing main channels run gray with silt.  The quiet side channels are clear.

Arriving on a Wednesday afternoon, we found a good site where we could easily level the truck and set up.  The site was well separated from others and had some screening from the loop road.  It was also convenient to the restrooms but not close enough that its lights were intrusive.

Set up included mounting the whirligig we inherited from our late friend Mel.   Steady wind throughout much of the day kept it in motion, a nice piece of whimsy that recalled fond memories of our friend.

In the evening, lounging at the table after dinner, drinking hot chocolate and Irish whiskey, we could watch the light filtering through the trees.

Much of our activity centered on the visitor center which was within walking distance of our campsite.  Like thousands before us, we photographed the iconic phone (not quite a) booth.  The missing phone equipment presumes that visitors have their own communication options these days, an assumption belied by both Maggie's and my lack of cell service.  Which is one reason we are here.

Three trailheads lead from the visitor center.  On the first afternoon (after a very leisurely, cool morning) Maggie and I joined the guided ranger tour on the Trail of the Mosses.  The tour was informative and did indeed educate me about the symbiotic nature of forest life.   It was a three-quarter mile walk with some moderate ups and downs.  We saw a lot of moss and other plant life.

After dinner, we walked a short distance up the Hoh River trail, looking for wildlife in the early evening.  We watched a woodpecker work its way up and down a dead trunk, looking for insects.  Every now and then it must have found a good spot because it would stick its head as far into already deep holes left by other woodpeckers and really dig in.  The only wildlife slow enough to photograph was a banana slug.

As we neared the visitor center Maggie spotted a large owl perched on a dead branch.  It was facing away from us but turned its face in our direction.  Its body was about two feet long and had black (or deep burnt umber, hard to tell in the low light) and white irregular horizontal bands from head to tail.  Neither of us have been able to identify it from our bird book.

That evening we attended a ranger talk about elk and cougars.  He said if you are in the park long enough you will see an Roosevelt elk.  As if on cue, a 13 point bull showed up in the campground early next morning.  It was browsing on the grass and blocking my way back to camp when I left the rest room.  I took the long way back to wake Maggie.  By this time the elk was browsing in the path between us and the next site.

Then it browsed in the woods beyond the campsites across the loop road.  Most campers got a look at him and nobody did anything stupid.

Later on Maggie and I walked about a mile up the Hoh River trail where we saw more forest and additional portions of the river.

We got back to camp in time for some horizontal time before dinner.

We returned to Olympia on Saturday, taking our time to explore places along the Route 101.  We stopped at Ruby Beach where it was foggy and cool.  We got a photo of the beach but not of the family-run Mexican restaurant in Aberdeen where we stopped for dinner.

The end.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Not Too Hot August Velo News

Western Washington has had the longest run of sunny, warm and occasionally hot (over 90) weather this summer.  Today is predicted to be one of the cooler days (84) but mid-day temperatures and high UV make cycling less pleasant than I care for, especially if I have an alternative.  Which I do:  mornings.   The temperature was 50 when I got out just after sunrise today, around 7:00.  That's higher than some mid-afternoon temperatures during winter, so I can deal with it easily.  Still it was chilly enough that I was comfortable wearing a jacket over a long-sleeved shirt first couple hours of the ride.

Since much of the year here does not lend itself to early morning rides, I enjoy the chance to get out early during the summer.  It's a habit I developed out of necessity riding in Phoenix.  I soon learned to enjoy the empty streets, the low light  and the quiet.  During summer in Olympia I get a chance to indulge my fancy.

This morning offered some fine highlights.  Heading east on 33rd Avenue I could see the road undulating under a green archway, the strong morning light filtering through the foliage.  The scene recalled summer mornings hiking the Appalachian Trail and reminded me how luck I am to be out on a beautiful morning like this.  Returning over Woodard Bay I stopped to watch the tide going out.  A sea otter head popped up in the water, then several more.  I saw six total and from the slightly larger size of one and the way the others followed its lead, I'm pretty sure it was a mother and six pups out foraging.

The day was beginning to warm up by the time I reached the northern end of the Chehalis Western Trail at 9:00.  Enough to shed the jacket for the final nine miles.  The air was still cool, though, since much of the trail is still shaded.  I never broke a sweat and felt strong throughout the ride:  25 miles and home by 10.  A good way to to start the weekend.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Local Note in the International News

The BBC paints a decidedly unflattering picture of Aberdeen, Washington on this 20th anniversary of the death the town's most famous son, Kurt Cobain ("Kurt Cobain's hometown no 'nirvana' 20 years after death").  That Cobain left a mixed legacy in his hometown isn't very surprising, given the circumstances of his childhood, the limits of life in a small town, his negative comments about Aberdeen as a celebrity, his drug use and suicide.  Being a dead rock legend doesn't count for a whole lot for many folks in Aberdeen.  If it counts at all, it's for the possibility of tourist dollars.

I can't speak to Cobain's life, his music or death--I was well into folk and folk-influenced rock and paid only passing attention to Cobain, Nirvana and the grunge movement.  On the other hand, I have been to Aberdeen more than once and can't say that the BBC is too far off the mark.

Among the very first references to Aberdeen I heard from a native Washingtonian was "Aberdump" and while others weren't as overtly negative, most people don't have much good to say about the town which is about 50 miles west of Olympia.  My first view of Aberdeen took me through a downtown that was more remnant of a better economy; I'd passed all of the big box stores on the highway east of town.  Lots of empty retail space.  Houses small and worn looking.  Neighboring Hoquiam looked equally forlorn.  Gray skies only heightened the effect.  The BBC rightly notes that Aberdeen has been hit hard by the decline of logging and it shows in the empty buildings.  On a larger scale, Aberdeen just looks like it's been used hard.  The city's waterfront is extensive and built out for an economy that no longer requires it.

Aberdeen does have a few things to recommend it, though.  The city is located at the head of Grays Harbor Bay at the confluence of the Chehalis, Whiskah and Hoquiam Rivers, all of which make for a dramatic coastal setting.  Most of my experience of Aberdeen has been passing through on my way to the grand places of the Olympic Peninsula; however much the area may be diminished by the "march of progress" it retains much of its innate beauty.  The approach from the east along Route 12 follows the north side of the broad flood plain of the Chehalis River with its many sloughs and wetlands.  Aberdeen is home to Grays Harbor Institute where Maggie and I heard Melissa Harris speak.  Aberdeen is home port for the Lady Washington, Washington's semi-official tall ship.  Three drawbridges span the Whiskah, Chehalis and Hoquiam Rivers.  A ray of local economic hope is the construction of the pontoons for the new floating bridge in Seattle.  I even ate good Mexican food at an Aberdeen restaurant.

If you look closely you can see Aberdeen's positives but you can't ignore it's decline.  For as much as Aberdeen disdains Kurt Cobain, the BBC would not be writing about Aberdeen but for Kurt Cobain.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Same Date. Different Years

From the journals:

04 April 2002.  At Hawk Mountain Shelter with about 20 other people this first day hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Red, Gary, Maggie and I are camped in the upper level of the shelter.  Long day hiking--6 hours--but we got in early enough to grab a space under a roof.  After dinner the sun is setting and the air is cooling.  Dinner was Ramen noodles with textured vegetable protein.  I still worry that we will run short of food before we reach Neels Gap.  I guess the stress of the city and and getting to the trail head is still with me.  Even so, today was a great day.  We encountered many people, most of whom seem to be here at Hawk Mountain this evening.  Sitting at the table in front of the shelter, I count seven tents.  More are out of direct sight.  The Appalachian Trail is a crowded place this fourth day of April.

04 April 2005.  Camped at Stover Creek Shelter on the first night of my Appalachian Trail "make up" hike.  Walked a blistering 3.5 miles today, barely half of that with a pack.  Brother Neil drove me up from Atlanta to Forest Road 42 about a mile north Springer Mountain summit.  We walked south to the AT southern terminus there, touched the plaque there and returned to the road.  Then I stared walking solo.  Easy walking, much more so than three years ago.  Feels strange to be out on my own--no Red and Gary, no Maggie, just me and this year's aspiring 2,000-milers.