Sunday, May 01, 2016

Day 36: Eugene, Oregon to Ukiah, California via fires.

So my wife went to Chicago and I barely got home.  There are fires everywhere.

My wife’s family has decided to donate a quilt to the Springfield, Illinois historical society and that meant a trip to Chicago for her.  The plan would be that I would drop her off in Williams, California and then do my usual cut across Highway 20 to Ukiah, if I could make it.  Apparently a massive wildfire had started south of Clearlake Oaks had was spreading east along the southern boundry of Lake County.  I had to hustle.

Oregon was apparently on fire too as the smoke near Roseberg and Canyonville was so bad that we had to slow down on I-5 because of awful visability.  It felt sort of weird to be coming home to such nastiness and chaos after such a wonderful trip.  We made the early lunch stop with my grandmother in Ashland and promptly sprinted over Siskiyou Pass for the long decent into the Sacramento Valley. 

I stopped in Williams and looked over the hills to the west and noticed, yep, there was a lot of smoke.  I kissed my lovely bride good-bye and headed for the final stretch home.  By the time I got into the hills it was evident that the situation was not good.  Fire personnel were everywhere and there were plenty of opportunties to pull over and watch the flames licking the hillsides south of Highway 20 as I neared the Cache Creek area.  By the time I reached famous elk ponds area the scene looked like some dystopian nightmare of people packing belongs and fire trucks racing down the highway.  Things ended up fine once I dropped down into Clearlake Oaks and the rest of the trip home was uneventful. 

Highway 20 closed about 90 minutes later.

I arrived home and began the long process of unpacking. 

Trip over. 

Counting both trips in June and July we travelled over 8,000 miles. 

And some of us had realizations while travelling.

My wife is considering life outside of teaching and doing administrative work at my school.  We spent a considerable part of the last few days rolling around the idea of my wife not teaching and the fact that we would be working on the same campus.  The emotions were part saddness and part excitement.  She’ll miss teaching and loves her town but the situation has become very difficult (and not on the kids end) and this is a potential opportunity for future progress.  There are still a lot of balls in the air but a transition is a real possibility. 

Speaking of transition, I’m 90% sure that this will be my last year of coaching.  Five years ago it was in my head, three years ago it was reality, and now I’m realizing that I’m not the same person I’ve been for the last twenty plus years.  In so many ways high school basketball has brought fulfillment and joy in my life.  Now high school basketball is holding me back from bringing greater joy and fulfillment in my life.  So it’s probably time to change that.

And plan more trips for later.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Day 35: Somer’s Bay, Montana to Eugene, Oregon via the Columbia River Gorge in a heat wave.

Christ, I’m tired.

Chipotle is on the table, my wife is reading a book, and we are in a hotel room after a lot of hours of driving.  And damn it is hot.

We started the morning by jumping the battery of a fellow cabin member’s car.  The young man and his girlfriend were fairly freaked out and we happily held up our departure and got them on their merry way.  We left Somer’s Bay at around 6:45 in the morning. 

Travelling home is reflective and usually quiet for the first part of the journey.  The GPS takes us through the back roads of western Montana, across Native American reservations, into and out of backwoods towns, and through picturesque forests and rolling hills.  Once we traverse our way to Interstate 90 we head west and progress towards Spokane, Washington.  The path across Idaho was actually quite nice and Spokane seems like an almost cute city to live in.  But one we were past Spokane, ick.  It’s nothing for hours and hours except fields and near desert.  And it was slowly getting hotter and hotter.  We reached Pasco, Washington around early afternoon and stopped for a bite to eat and a hit at the local REI.  We had a coupon and our old Costco camel packs had pretty much lived their life.  We were hoping that a nicer pack from REI might be in order while making us drool for our trip next year.  Finding nothing we continued our journey. 

We hit Interstate 84 and made our way west through the Columbia River Gorge expecting the temperatures to go down.  The reverse happened.  As we got closer the Portland the temperature gauge on the car went higher and higher.  By the time we had hit the outskirts of the Rose City the thermometer read 103 degrees, the hottest we had experienced on the entire trip.  We also experienced Portland’s finest traffic at about 3:30 in the pm, and thus our attempt to get through the city early still resulted in a good 45 minute delay.  We stopped at the Salem REI for another look at gear and found the style but not the size we were looking for.  We then called ahead to the Eugene REI and forged on. 

We found the packs we wanted, probably spent way too much money, nailed down Chipotle, and are now escaping the heat in our hotel room in Eugene, Oregon. 

Yes, Eugene.  Where the temperature is over 100 degrees and I’m wondering if going home might be a mistake. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

A work day at home

I’ve had a lower stomach issue bothering me for a couple of weeks now and this weekend seems to have been the culminating event.  After a Saturday of shopping in Santa Rosa I came home and like a hammer I was hit with a fever.  Not a horrible fever; something around 101ish.  Sunday was miserable.  I kept a fever just enough to make me feel totally lethargic but not enough to think I wasn’t going to work in the morning.  I ate one can of soup and that was it.

I woke up before my alarm this morning and while my fever had dropped from it’s max last night (101.7), I was unwilling to go to school a walking zombie.  I took a sick day.

This is very uncommon since I’m usually going to gut out something minor and I don’t get sick often anways.  It’s been years since my last tangle with the flu (thank you flu shot) and the usual colds don’t slap me enough to keep me out of the classroom.  But today’s fever shall be the exception and I’m taking a rest day to get my body back into some sense of normalcy.

Sick days are also not total relaxation days either.  I ended up out of bed at 5 a.m. (like every morning) except that this morning I spent an hour signing up for my sub and lesson planning.  And before you go all “ohhh poor baby” on me, realize that I actually take what goes on in my class seriously.  I’ve not only booted bad subs from not getting it done in my classroom, I’ve called the principal after getting texts from students and had a sub removed from my class by the second period of the day!  I dive into my plans because I expect them to be followed and I expect kids to get something out of it. 

Technology has made the process of communicating with my students much easier.  I immediately sent out a Remind text to all my students to bring headphones and nailed down the link for Friday’s Newshour summary.  For my Comp Gov classes they could look over a Power Point in Google Drive, then hit up a Newshour Series on Nigeria, and finish by beginning to read Persepolis.  My Economics classes did some text notes and then viewed a video about the controversies surrounding Eminent Domain.  The text and links were posted in Google Classroom, a note was left via the substitute system to the teacher in charge, a couple of e-mails to my colleagues to keep an eye out on my classes, and viola, finished.  Around eleven this afternoon I got a text from a couple of students saying the assignment wasn’t up on Google Classroom and within a minute I had the ability make the changes necessary to get things rolling.  Technology is an amazing tool. 

Barring a reaccurence of my fever tonight I should be back in the saddle tomorrow bright and early.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Day 34: Somer’s Bay via Logan Pass, and the end.

We left early hoping to avoid the crowds at Logan Pass.  I’m thankful that we did as our 8:30 arrival time found the parking lot already 2/3 full.

Today’s first hike was to an overlook above Hidden Lake, right on the Continental Divide above Logan Pass.  The hike to the overlook was about a mile and third up a series of wooden walkways along alpine meadows and beautiful views of mountains.  Last year we attempted the hike but ended up blocked by snow about half way up the trail and had to turn around because we were ill equipped.  This time we made it up and were greeted by this:

Hidden Lake, Hidden Creek 2015

It was a stunning view that my wife and I took in for about ten minutes.  Even with the throngs of people on the wooden overlook the feeling was quiet and serene.  Almost too quiet.

“Jeff, can you come over here for a second?”

My wife’s calm tone raised my awareness and I headed over to the opposite end of the overlook and looked down into the meadow.

 Grizzly, Hidden Lake Overlook 2015

It was a smaller grizzly bear digging around not that far below us from the deck overlook.  I was oddly not frightened; maybe it was the crowds that were present or maybe it was the fact that the bear didn’t really seem interested in us.  It roamed for awhile and then took off down the trail toward Hidden Lake, which was already posted for a bear activity warning for hikers.  Satisfied with our expedition we began our trek back down.  As we crested the Divide and started down the planks we noticed a ranger looking south into an alpine meadow. 

“Large grizzly”, he said and he pointed down into the meadow and sure enough, probably a good third of a mile away, was a massive bear cavorting in a small stream.  It also seemed totally oblivious to the stream of humans heading down the mountain and was perfectly content taking sprints in the stream while occasionally stopping to tear up the ground.  We watched the bear frolick for a good forty minutes and were witness to the very reason you are told not to run.  That beast of a bear was flying down the valley.  It could easily have caught even a fast runner it moved so effortlessly across the alpine terrain.  It was mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time. 

We moved back to Logan Pass and crossed the Going-to-the-Sun Highway to the Highline Trail, renouned for it’s cliff edge trail and overall beauty looking into the heart of Glacier National Park.  We held up and waited for someone to travel with as to follow the doctrine of grizzly bear smart travel and a young couple that was on a honeymoon from Tennessee showed up.  We chit-chated as we passed the “bear frequenting” warning and slowly made our way along the first half mile cliff face, peering over the side at the road hundreds of feet below.  We managed another third of a mile before we came upon a huge pile of bear scat.  All four of us didn’t want to push our luck and turned back.  We watched a few bighorn sheep roam the cliffs above us before we said our goodbyes (they where heading home tomorrow) and my wife and I began our way back towards Kalispell.  We decided to talk one more look at Avalanche Lake so we stopped at the trailhead and made the trek up to one of our favorite places.  At the parking area we noticed a huge line of cars being stopped from heading up the hill towards Logan Pass.  Thankfully we got up there early enough to avoid the traffic!

Avalanche Lake was not quiet.  Throngs of people had staked claims to various parts of beaches, including a youth group whose minister felt that his voice was going to be much more articulate than the wonderful voice of silence.  Why go to such a place and conduct a sermon? 

We leave tomorrow, sadly, and I’m already missing this trip.     

Trails hiked:  Hidden Lake Overlook, part of the Highline Trail, Avalanche Lake.

Miles hiked:  8.25

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Day 33: Somers Bay via …….nothing.

A full day of doing nothing.  It was nice.

We looked at some gear in Kalispell, grabbed a coffee at a local shop, and then picnicked on Flathead Lake and simply laid around in the sunshine.  We did accomplish something today.  We started planning next year. 

Logan Pass is supposed to open tomorrow and I am thrilled!  The location is at the top of Glacier National Park and two hikes I’d planned a year ago are now back in action; Hidden Lake, and the Highline Trail.  This is the perfect way to end the trip; a hike into alpine country to overlook a beautiful lake known for its grizzly population, and a hike that is considered one of the most beautiful in the entire country.

Today also brought to the forefront that the end is neigh.  Work e-mails for my wife and I have already started and the real world is trying to intrude on our vacation. 

Bummer. 

Miles hiked:  Zero

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Day 32: St. Mary, Montana to Somer’s Bay, Montana via Avalanche Lake and Costco.

Damn, it was cold this morning.  We didn’t wake up to rain though and that meant a hike was up and coming, although we needed to hustle because rain was supposed to be ugly later throughout the day.  The St. Mary Valley was the worst we had scene it smoke-wise.  It looked like something was holding the smoke inside the valley making visibility very poor.  I was happy we were leaving. 

By the time we hit East Glacier we had limited phone reception, some of the first in days.  I had one message on my phone.  My wife had…more.  There are definitely benefits to being out of cell phone contact.  On Highway 2 between East Glacier and West Glacier we came out of a mountain pass when my wife pointed down the road that something was on the right side.  That something was a bear. 

We pulled up within ten yards of the bear which had one cub in tow and one behind it munching on what seemed to be huckleberries.  My wife struggled to get my iPhone camera to work as the black bear calmly looked at her and lazily turned to walk back into the forest.  We continued west as our roadside attraction ended. 

We made the turn into West Glacier and headed for an old stomping grounds, Avalanche Lake.  It was relatively early and the traffic was light as we wound our way along Lake McDonald and into the center of the park.  Avalanche Lake is well traveled but we  took along bear spray anyway and hiked quickly up to the lake, only to find that many small groups were already there.  Bummer.  But fear not the crowds because an extra half-mile brought us along the west side of Avalanche Lake to a more secluded location and the perfect place for a mid-morning snack stop.  We had been to Avalanche last year and there was a noticable lack of snow along the ridges that fed the lake.  This meant that the number of waterfalls going into the water was cut down about about a third; still impressive but a tad bit of a let down since we saw the lake last.

We decided to head into Kalispell and have our first Costco trip in a long while.  After snagging some supplies and wolfing down a Costco dog we drove south to Somer’s Bay and a series of cabins there were across the road from Flathead Lake.  The cabins were very nice but the road noise was a definate minus.  We’re thinking of maybe hiking some local trails or maybe even hitting a beach tomorrow for a picnic.

Trails hiked:  Avalanche Lake, Trail of the Cedars

Miles hiked: 5.6

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Day 31: St. Mary via Two Medicine, Scenic Point, and Running Eagle Falls.

We left early for Two Medicine because everything we read said that parking was extremely limited.  The trip takes about 30 minutes and winds along the east end of Glacier National Park, some of which on roads that are barely acceptable for a regular car, and even with something stronger can only take speeds of about fifteen miles per hour.  One small plus (maybe not) was that once we got to the Two Medicine cut off we found ourselves with phone reception!  We did a quick check of our email, my wife checked in with family, and we headed back into the park to no service.

Two Medicine is gorgeous!  I know it gets old that I keep saying that every area of Glacier is gorgeous.  But I don’t know how to express that at every destination there is something that just totally stimulates the landscape senses.  The glacial lakes are beyond picturesque, only in this area the peaks are a bit taller and the scene feels a bit more intimate.  We parked in a little side lot and met up with our ranger, this time an older man who was also a middle school teacher in Montana.  We also ran into Jack and Gretel and planned a potential beer and pie tasting later in the afternoon in St. Mary.  And we were off!

After a stroll through the woods we stopped at Appistoki Falls, a tall and narrow falls that seemed a tad bit unimpressive after yesterday’s views along the Grinnell Glacier trail.  It might have been because we were right next to it, too close to get a good view.    After a small backtrack we took a right turn and began the long trek up the switchbacks to Scenic Point.  I’m sorry, I meant the long, long, long trek up to Scenic Point.  2,400 feet in elevation gain in three miles.  Up, up, up!  Through the dead Whitebark Pine forests.  Through the exposed cliff faces and shale rock.  It was serious work.  It was also fairly dangerous.  At the bottom of the trail the temperature was around 75 degrees.  Around 2/3 of the way up the mountain a storm started to brew over Upper Medicine Lake.  The wind started to whip and my wind breaker was not helping in the slightest.  The climb had turned me into a sweaty mess and now a massive chill was starting to grip my body.  The ranger stopped us and asked me if I had an extra layer, which I did.  I have no idea why I didn’t throw on the flannel earlier except that the climb and the cold might have been taking their toll.  Once the flannel was donned the chills stopped and the hike resumed.  Thankfully the storm skirted northeast and we only received a spit of rain. 

We reached the top of the mountain and began our final push across a small ridge to Scenic Point.  Man was it windy.  In fact I don’t know if I have ever been in a wind that was angry.  This wind seemed furious.  People have mentioned winds that acted like they want to throw you off the trail and this sucker seemed to want to throw us off the entire mountain.  Then, as we approached the point, it stopped.  It was literally as if the wind was turned off when we hit the rocky outcropping.  We stopped and enjoyed the view of Two Medicine to the west, the plains of Montana to the east, and the town of East Glacier a few miles to the south.  It was pleasant picnic weather and the group of eight of us enjoyed a nice break and some food while the conversation drifted towards education.  Our ranger, the middle school teacher, shared the all too similar stories of Common Core, budget cuts, and the overall negative environment of being a teacher in America.  We agreed that we loved the job but sometimes we wondered when the nation was going to get a clue.

The hike back was fairly uneventful.  The angry wind tried to block us off the ridge initially and gradually died down as we descended into the valley.  As the clouds parted the views of Two Medicine become more and more spectacular.  One of our hiking companions commented that some of the best scenery in the park was past Two Medicine on a loop of Dawson and Pitamaken Passes.  We would love to do it but the grizzly country makes us take serious pause.  At the end of the trail we parted ways with our Belgian companions Jack and Gretel.  The hike seemed to run them really ragged and Gretel was having a severe case of shin splints. 

We finished up the day with a tiny quarter mile hike to Running Eagle Falls; a facinasting waterfall that looks like the water is coming out of the rock itself.  It was nice to end on a mellow note after such a strenous climb up in the cold.      

Trails Hiked:  Running Eagle Falls, Scenic Point

Miles hiked:  8.6