Quake Party

Picture eight people gathering in a NE Portland home with piles of survival gear. The grill is hot, and a stack of foil wrapped potatoes sits next to a container of egg salad and a bowl of salad. The background music is eighties hair bands, and folks have brought canned goods and full backpacks.

People eat a combination of fresh food and old canned stuff nearing its best-by date, as its October, and it's time to cycle out the emergency canned foods in the disaster kits as we restock. And since many minds get more ideas, we're doing this as a pot luck event. Or as one friend put it, this is my zombie apocalypse survival team, and we're here to plan for the worst.

Stacy comments about her canned soup – “For me, this posole is comfort food. I keep these around for days where I've done a lot of physical labor and don't have the energy to think up something better. It's hydrating as well as calories.” Which matters in a disaster, but at the time, you won't think of that stuff. The time to be ready is while you are not shaking.

Portland is due, or overdue, for an earthquake – up to a magnitude 9. Fifty years ago, people didn't realize this area got quakes at all, and so the building codes are patchwork, and services are not resilient. The city is working on these, but if it happened next week, we want to survive, we want our family and friends to survive, we want our neighbors and co-workers to survive.

And so we ate the expiring stock and talked about scenarios


Best case: quake doesn't happen for 80 years, and by then 1) the infrastructure has been upgraded & people trained and 2) all of us are already dead. Except young Mo, doing her homework in the basement.

Worst case is an super volcano exploding while the quake happens and we all die. But short of that, there are a bunch of possibilities that we can plan for.

First, Stacy outlined, is that the quake happens in the middle of the night while you are in bed asleep. What do you do?

If you habitually keep shoes and flashlight near the bed, you'll know what to grab to protect your feet from glass and find your way without power. Check the batteries regularly – Paul pointed out that like his software projects, if it hasn't been tested, it should be assumed to not work. Various people took notes on checking batteries. Others noted that cellphones tend to have a flashlight function.

Val added to not have heavy art hung over the bunk – it falling would be a disturbing way to wake up. Scott pointed out he sleeps under 90 year old wavy glass windows. Stacy snarked about life choices, because it's that kinda crowd.

Until the shaking stops, drop, cover and hold on – under or beside bed, under a table. We discussed bookshelves falling on people, as the house hosting this event had a lot of bookshelves, few of them secured to the walls. Modifying that goes onto the house prep list.

Ok, the shaking stops. What next? Get those shoes on, grab the flashlight. Go outside. Survey damage, watch for power lines, don't try to travel far in the dark. With Solarize Portland being popular, the lines that are down may not be dead, even if the power plant is out – solar home batteries may still be pushing power into the system.

Then – shelter in place. Expect that EMS will take 3 days for most basic help – you are on your own, be prepared for it. We've got 2.4million people here, and if 1/2 of them need help, that still will overwhelm any supply. We need to not be part of the problem.

We pulled up the Portland hazards map, and checked out the homes of the people gathered – two houses thoroughly in the green, two yellow, one orange. How long you stay in your house may vary. The two green zoned homes, then, is what our group will invest thought in gathering at, since they are seismically stable & secondary issues like land slides are unlikely.


Back to scenarios : you are at work when the quake hits. Andrew showed off his bug out bag: water in sealed packets, food brick, small med kit, epipen, n95 face mask, work gloves, parachute cord, safety glasses, multi tool, space blanket, rain poncho, etc – all fitting in a ruck sack that lives in his car. This gear isn't too heavy, and can help him if he needs to walk home from his office, which may take a long time, since we don't expect many of the Willamette bridges near his workplace to still be up and passable.

Amanda, who is on the Neighhborhood Emergency Team, showed off what was in her jump bag. Andrew's was geared towards self-survival, Amanda's was more towards helping others. She had a more extensive medkit, (and we had a conversational digression on nitrile gloves, and how many one goes through – experience from Scott & Rita's days of bike patrol), crowbar and a t shaped tool that was made out of a spark-free material for turning off gas as well as prying, breaking, and hooking. Gloves, helmet, markers and tape – used to indicate triage on both people and houses. The teams exist for every neighborhood, and are trained in what to do to assist – when Amanda gets back to her home base and feels safe, she will then start assisting her teammates per their training. We discussed who else is interested in NET training, and what other skills would be useful, like Ham radio, and first aid/CPR.


Next scenario: time to move. You've been home and have decided your house is not safe or sustainable, and want to move to our zombie HQ in the green zone. The various routes and means – foot or bicycle probable, car or motorcycle is less likely. Fallen overpasses and bridges may make the interstates as impassible as the Willamette; live wires, downed trees, crumbled masonry – surface routes may be clear, but not likely. What would you bring? How would you carry it?

Alas, one of the team houses with the best rain barrel setup and things like a solar oven is off in the yellow zone. The designated zombie HQ does not yet have rain barrels, but it's in the works. UIt does, however, have a hot tub, which after the fresh water runs out, is a water source for at least cleaning, or in a pinch, filtering once the bromide evaporates. A gravity fed filter should clear up the rest to make 200 gallons of drinkable water at need. Also, apparently, although powdered pool shock can be added to unfiltered water (then shake and let out gas) to make drinkable- the liquid gallon bleach most people have becomes less affective over time, and shouldn't be trusted after 6 months from opening. The things this group knows amazes me.

Food for long term for the entire crowd is going to be difficult. If it's mid summer, fresh food from the garden will be available, plus whatever is in the cupboard, after the perishables run out. In the house emergency kit is a not-small amount of canned foods, but that takes up a lot of space. We'll likely want to follow Stacy's advice and have the fixings for a lot of soup – Winco deals in various bulk items, and has Mylar to store it in after packaging and vacuuming. Andrew suggests freezing any bulk supplies for 24 hours before repackaging, to kill off any critters who would be happy with being sealed in with a food supply. Stacy tells a story of her first year of assembling a disaster kit in a sealed wheeled plastic trash container, and how vermin had subsequently eaten up or ruined most of those supplies. Everyone started tossing out ideas to make the kits mouse and bug resistant, and noting that the kits should be stored away from the house, in case there is damage there.

Once we have a stock of dried food available to us, how will we heat it? Keeping a spare propane tank in rotation for the gas grill at zombie HQ should give us some on-hand heat source, but that's not going to last as long as we want it too. Scott has Nissan crockpot that takes no power after the initial boiling and can make a gallon of soups at a time. There's a solar oven. Certain camp stoves and which will run on gasoline if there is nothing else, and we took an inventory of what people had – we live in a camp-friendly state, and everyone had some equipment.

Sanitation is a squishy topic, we pun. Zombie HQ is on a slope, so we joke about it rolling down hill, but really, an awful lot of people are going to suddenly learn what life was like before sewer systems. The idea of digging an outhouse out back works in the countryside, but here, we'll need a bucket system, and a means to dispose of the waste so as to avoid dying, as it were, if dystentary. The Oregon trail gets revenge!

The green-zone homes need to be equipped to shelter the team, and so, scenarios are trotted out on what could go wrong, and how to solve issues. Windows may break, so the kits need means of covering, like a roll of visqueen, which continues to let light in & keep the winter rains out. We wrote off the fireplace, which seems like a good source of heat, but may no longer be sound – indeed, may topple and cause roof damage. So having a big strong tarp and a way to secure it over the roof tree may be smart. Blankets and sweaters, since Portland is rarely life threateningly cold, should keep us warm. Also having friends near for body heat. And entertainment – people to talk to, as well as that extensive library.

The big house-issue possibilities, however, are fire and falling. A pipe wrench needs to be handy to turn off the gas (only at need), and extinguishers available – if the neighborhood starts burning, there won't be water pressure or fire trucks to stop it. Luckily, building codes make the San Fransisco result unlikely, even in the neighborhoods of 100% wood frame construction. The building codes for older homes, however, didn't take quakes into the equation, and thus many wood buildings are only using gravity to rest on their foundations. Aftermarket bolts go on the list for zombie HQ retrofit- luckily, it's basement walls are mostly accessible. Paul notes that there's an era of Portland cement mixing where the ingredient ratio was off (and the sand component was dredged river bottom), and the concrete seems to be held together by habit – his basement, for instance, can be dug through with a plastic spoon. Zombie HQ is solid- has to be, to hold up the weight of the books.


Speaking of books, Scott suggested a homework assignment of Lucifer Hammer by Niven – which imagines a global disaster event. Not to scare people too much, as our potential quake is definitely regional, but does get one in the mindset, and show how others may react. Luckily, we can be pretty sure the rest of the nation will be shipping in food and medical supplies, but it's unknown where epicenter is – could affect Portland, Seattle, Salem, not to mention all the small communities on the coast.

The homework-doing teen came upstairs, and her dad explained what we'd been discussing, and posed questions about what she'd do if quake happened while she was at school. could she walk home? What route? When? Since she didn't know, we recommended she ask the school admins their plans, then discuss them with her folks to see how school plan would dovetail or deviate from the family plan.

From this group's plan, we hope to expand out to a larger group, or seed off other zombie HQ groups of friends and neighbors, until everyone in the city has a plan, supplies, and training.

Next time we do this gathering, next year, folks will have assembled bug out kits, done some research, and started thinking routes. Many of the home retrofit items will be checked off. Then we'll figure out the next pieces of preparedness. As we told the teen, it's an event you should have given some thought and prep to, but without it taking over your life.


Links & ideas:

Bug out bag

Jump bag – medical gear & equipment NET trains in, for helping others.

Disaster kit – food, water, medical supplies, tarps & rope, etc – assume 3 days with no support, and after that, limited resources.

Home retrofit – have a way to shut off gas & stop a fire while its small. Secure things that could fall. Make sure you are attached to your foundation. How to hold drinking water. Sanitation plans? Know what your limits are, and when it's time to bail, and what to bring with you when you go to a shelter or zombie HQ.

Training: first aid/CPR, basic home repair, ham radio, water purification techniques



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The American Alps

We went exploring for Scott’s birthday, and found someplace new to us.

There’s an old joke that says Americans think 100 years is a long time while British think 100 miles is a long way. We find in our little pocket of Utopia that people don’t get out much – Portlandia has a very British opinion of leaving town. We scoff at that, and yet, hadn’t done a road trip in a while, and then only to places we’ve done before. A new orbit for Scott should mean new worlds to explore, new mountains to climb.

And there’s a national park we have never visited only 4 hours away. Well, 5 if you get stuck in Seattle traffic.

North Cascades was suggested as a national park in 1902 by none other than Portland’s Mazamas hiking club, but it was more than 60 years before it got signed into one, and by that point, logging, mining, and dam building had taken place, but no major highways had really cut into the area. It’s actually a huge patch of roadlessness, and though the dams with in the park power about 25% of Seattle, there are little in the way of front country amenities, which probably discourages the average vacationer.

We did a quick drive by – hwy 20 now cuts through the park at its waist, but doesn’t really give much of a taste of it. You can stop at overlooks and see the long reservoirs, but only get to Diablo, where there is a nice camp, a boat launch, and an Art Deco styled dam you can drive or walk across, with a Learning Center on the far side. If we want to say, spend time kayaking on Ross with our own boats, we’d need to launch them at the camp, paddle across Diablo, pay $20/boat to have them trucked to Ross (there used to be a portage route, but it got avalanched), then head off to our reserved (but free) campsites anywhere up the 30 mile lake. Just an idea.

Having seen all there is to see in the front country, we drove out of the park, through the tiny burg of Marblemount (which does have cell coverage, but only if you have Verizon) and down Cascade River road, which quickly turns in to a narrow paved strip twisting through old growth forest, with no features to stop and look at nor any pullout to stop on at all. We turned off the pavement to check out the first state forest campground: a 20ish site loop along a river, down a dirt road, and did not seem to be packed like sardines or full of rowdy kids. Still, we continued on. The pavement ended, and for the next 12 miles we endured the washboard rattling at slower speeds, knowing that only the fact that we had bigger tires made it possible to make time at all. “That’s not a breaking bump, that’s a mogul”

Mineral creek campground seems about the same as the previous state park site, except that it’s closer to the national park boundary and had an open site. Having been frustrated by the road and the heat, we parked, paid, and struggled to get packs prepped, meals pre-made, and us relaxed to get to sleep early. Normally we read outside, but the bugs drove us in to the van.

Saturday morning we woke at 6, ate and put the van into driving configuration, and heading on up more of the washboard road. Shortly, we crossed from state park to national park, and lo, the road has been graded from here on up. Whew! We climbed up to the parking lot and quickly got ourselves, our packs, and our hiking poles onto the trail by 7:30.

The parking lot, btw, was spectacularly surrounded by peaks and glaciers. We headed into the dense woods and immediately lost the view.

It was supposed to be another scorcher of a day, and we planned our hike accordingly. I’m a morning person, but Scott is not. Luckily, we compromise, and the early start means comfortably hiking up hill in long pants and lightweight long sleeved shirts. Ok, several switchbacks up, and we were de-layering to light weight tech t’s, but that was wholly from exertion, not ambient temperature. We stopped at a lovely cascade, and stopped counting switchbacks, as the first 3 miles was nothing but. However, they were pretty gentle, as switchbacks go, and while we climbed 2500 feet, we were barely winded. We certainly weren’t feeling crowded – we played leapfrog with a nice pair of Korean-Canadian ladies, and didn’t see anyone else.

The trail had a quarter mile of level track across the loose shifting rocks of a scree slope, followed by sweet wild blueberries, after which we topped Cascade Pass, and could look down the long view of the valley on the other side. Many hikers turn around here, but we were looking for a trail that headed up the mountain to our left, which was part meadow and part scree and all up. Just as we got started, we ran across a pair of bushwackers who’d gone off trail below, looking for the Pass overlook, and one of them hiking with his arm in a sling – just had some plates installed, but had a backpacking trip planned soon and was curious if he could do it. They sat down for a break, and we headed up the mile long steep scree climb.

It was a moderately unpleasant mile. No worse than Dog Mountain for steepness, but I’m coming off a foot injury, and the scree crossing still hurt. The one armed guy passed us half way up.

Over the saddle, we had another view down to a feature signed as Lake Doubtful, leading to bad humor like “Is that a moraine lake?” “Doubtful.” (It was). The blue of the lake’s depths was bordered by lighter greens and browns of its shallows, and one deep spot clearly rested at the foot of a chute coming off the mountain. My theory is that a large chuck of ice calved off a glacier and furrowed into the lakebed, creating the shallows with its terminal moraine, and then melted. Pretty, though.

It’s cooler up here, with the breeze coming off Sahale glacier above us. We’re now above the tree line, and have been thankful for the morning’s cloud cover. I have sun issues, and need to ration my time in full exposure, even with hats and sunscreen. So far this hike, it’s barely been an issue, but now the clouds are breaking up. Still, the trail is supposed to be easy from this point, as it skirts the ridge.


Well, easier than that last mile scramble, but it was still up & occasionally rocky. Luckily there were views to enjoy and tempt us onward. The lake below us. The glacier hanging above. The mountain peaks like the molars of the world. The alpine flowers. The various un-shy marmots. The Korean-Canadian ladies leap frog us, we pass them, and then are passed by other hikers who started later but were faster climbers than us. We’re getting old.


Every two hours, we stop and refuel a little – half a PB& J, split an apple, etc. as the day warms up, these rest breaks are increasingly inhabited by horseflies. Are they normally up here and we’re invading, or are they following the hikers up to the alpine country?


As we pass along a ridge (showing us the valley we originally came up on one side and the moraine on the other), we note that the end of trail, which is supposed to be at the backpack camp at the foot of the glacier, is still 500 feet above us and a half mile distant through yet another scree slope. There is not a lick of shade for miles in any direction and the sun is directly overhead. We’ve already done 6 miles. Time to turn back.


Downhill is a bit more difficult for Scott, since his knee is no longer OEM. So we take it slightly slower, and more cautiously, particularly as we are seeing a steady stream of hikers still heading up. I found some shade under a small bush while Scott re-took some photos that didn’t work out on the first pass. Chatting with an uphill traveling family, we hear that goats have been spotted near Cascade Pass – apparently the designated pee-spot is to the ungulates a freshly laid salt lick, and it freaked the family out. Then we start down that rocky scree mile.


Half way down the mile, our one-armed hiker and companion come up behind us and we chat about the trail – they made it up to the camp, which he described as ‘tent city’ – later, we asked a ranger, who said they allow 6 groups of up to 4 tents each up there any night, so it can look a little more crowded than it is. The 2-armed companion, upon hearing about the goats, was enraptured. She hikes every weekend, never seen a goat. How do you do that in the mountains?


They took off ahead of us and we did our cautious descent, but did get to see them in 2 switchbacks below us, pointing at the mama, juvenile, and baby mountain goat as they were heading up that slope. Cutting the trail switchbacks. Directly towards us. We stepped aside and watched them pass.


Upon reaching the Pass overlook, we kept trucking. There were about 20 too many people for our tastes, milling around & having their trail mix. It was hot and sunny here (but instead of biting horse flies, we now had annoying deer flies, that just wanted to land on us. A lot).


Across the flat scree (still not making my foot injury happy), and into the woods. The deer flies stayed with us, as the intermittent shade turned into intermittent sun patches, and we descended the multitude of switchbacks, trying to guess how much further our poor tired feet had to go. A mile? Two?


Finally we break from the woods and see the parking lot, bustling with people who are just coming down or just going up (at 4 in the afternoon? Well, it is light until 9). We are so happy we have our camper rig, with a refrigerator stocked with water bottles. Time to take off the hiking boots, a cause for celebration all on its own.


Then, that 12 miles of washboard road.


We camped that night on Bacon Creek Road, in a dispersed camping pullout. We slept late (ish), then in honor of our location, cooked up a breakfast of pancakes and bacon before heading back into the park. Some van based photography, then a short hike at Ruby Creek, made shorter as the trail more or less disappeared on us. There were a couple good bridges and decaying log cabins before we lost track, but in the valley it was hot, so we did what most people do on vacation: siesta by the water with food and drink and books. Our water was a burbling alpine stream, we were just off a hiking trail in the mountains, the food and drink were picnic goods we had carried in and the books were electronic (Scott is re-reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files about a wizard in Chicago & I’ve got Neil Stephanson’s Quicksilver about Isaac Newton) I’m not sure we quite have the hang of this ‘rest day’ notion.

We took a drive onto the dry side, viewing Washington Overlook (which had a really interesting (architecturally) building that looks to have gotten water damage or was attached by raging bears), and spent enough time to confirm that the dry side looks like Bend. We found a back county pull off and did van chores and made dinner – salads, chicken and potatoes, eaten al fresco under the awning – then went back to a forest service trailhead to settle in for the night.

Monday morning, and while my co-workers are still commuting to the office, Scott and I are clicking our hiking poles up the rocky path towards Maple Pass. The guide book says they normally recommend doing the steep section first on a loop, but due to how the views play out, they recommend this one the other way – the long gradual climb at the beginning, and returning on the steep switchbacks. We followed this advice, but next time we do this trail, we’ll reverse it, for Scott’s knees sake.

As we start out, we play a shell game with a pair of Germans who had pulled up in a huge travel rig – I called it the Unimog, but Scott says it was something else. But one of the nice byproducts of early morning hikes is the quietude. It’s a pretty climb, gradually getting above a hanging valley and into sparse trees. Large swaths of wildflowers tempt bees and my photographer along the route.

Eventually we see a turn off for Heather Pass, and follow it over the ridge to see what the next valley over looks like. We returned to our trail, which climbed a little, and then wended over that same ridge line for the same scree and forest view before returning to the intended direction.

Deep below us is Lake Ann, with its own wizard island analog. I’m beginning to think the offset island is a feature on all PNW lakes. Our route continues to climb as we loop the lake, aiming for the ridge high above it.

We top out at 7000 feet today, lunching in a shady patch beside a cliff face, identifying the snowfields on peaks 15 miles distant. If I calculated it right, we were staring at Boston Glacier, who shares a peak with Sahale Arm that we’d nearly reached two days before.

Scott had been stopping to shoot anything that captured his interest, but up here with the long views, he was working with infrared to make detailed panoramas, which get great resolution on the distant peaks, cutting through any haze, but taking something like 15 second shutter times, and a lot of them to make a pano. While he does this, I meander off to find shade, and watch other hikers climbing around the bowl, tiny as ants.

Then, we descend. Many of the switchback legs were only 10 meters long. Zig zag zig, we tromped down a nose, trapped between the circe of Rainy Lake and the cliff and rubble field. We could see the highway a thousand feet below us. We were descending fast, according to our knees. Ow.

Eventually, we made it to the valley floor and the van. First things first: the shoes come off. Then we reconfigure for travel.

The North Cascade Loop driving tour includes hwys 20, 97, and 2, and is more than 119 miles long. It seemed to be popular for motorcycles, but I can’t see doing it that way myself. It’s mostly through the high desert area of Washington, and while Scott drove and listened to 99% Invisible episodes, I hid in the of the van to escape the bright light reflecting off yellow rock and grasses. We crossed Columbia river near Wenatchee, and found peach orchards breaking up the landscape.

Bought some.

Nothing else happened for hours.

When we re-entered the cascades range and saw more mountainous terrain, which was more interesting to me. The big peaks are not quite as impressive as the northern items, but it’s certainly closer to home. We’ll have to see if there are any good trails on them.

Lessons learned:

  • It’s not far to the alps, and they are lower than we think.
  • Eastern Washington is bright, and dull. But has good peaches. Still, drive the I5 corridor. Time it to miss Seattle traffic.
  • Horse flies seem to come out at about 2pm.
  • Always start the hikes before 7:30am. Try to be off trail by 2, because flies.
  • It’s cooler in the high country
Posted in Hike, Tripography | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cursed Beans and Ham

Originally Posted by: Rita on May 15, 2005 – 12:31 PM


The Outer Banks

The morning after the storm started hazy, with hugemongous puddles and drippy trees, but quickly burned off to a near cloudless day.  The town of Kitty Hawk appeared to have not blown away in the gales, although when we strolled down to the beach, the breakers were crashing into the dunes just shy of the stilt-perched beach houses.

The narrow isle has the Albemarle Sound on one side, the Atlantic on the other, and a road down the middle lined with tourist attractions.  We skipped passed them, and headed down to Bodie Island Lighthouse, where we saw pelicans frolicking in the pond where their front yard used to be.  After selecting a site at the Orgeon Inlet campground, we headed back into town to poke around the touristy things. Jockey’s Ridge State Park is a giant sand dune with a hang gliding concessionaire – we considered taking lessons,  but our budget wouldn’t allow the $85/person fee.  Instead we hiked over the ridges and valleys and down to the sound.

The next morning, we drove across the bridge to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.  During our 4 mile hike around ponds and dunes, we saw, in no particular order:

  • Raccoon
  • Ibis
  • Egret
  • Swan
  • Osprey (feeding nestlings)
  • Golden Finches and other songbirds
  • Scallop shells
  • Whelk egg case (a whelk is the critter within the conch shell)


Pelicans – These birds were fun to watch, and Scott liked photographing them.  They flew in formation when in groups, and when alone would skim the waves, flying between the crests and a few inches up, and managing to rise just in time to miss the breaking wave and skim down the backside.

Mosquitos – when the wind died, the bloodsuckers flew out of the bushes and grabbed ahold of our fleece shirts, probably trying to bite thru them, but also hanging out in the lee of the human when the next gust struck.  Interesting species survival technique, but we still brushed them off.

Shipwreck – the Orient went down in 1863 carrying missionaries where were on their way to take care of civil war POWs – all hands survived, since the wreck is all of 100 yards from the current shoreline, they probably swam in, but the cargo was lost.

Seagulls – there is no escape from them on the islands.

While driving along, the dunes tower overhead and block the view of the Atlantic, and the more stable sands on the other side of the highway are covered by grasses, small trees, and salt marsh with occasional glimpses of the bay.

Another bridge, another island.  Ho hum, miles and miles of dunes, broken up by newly constructed stilt homes and mini golf.  We headed to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, also hanging out in a storm-caused lake, several inches deep with grass sticking up between tiny waves.  This lighthouse was once endangered of falling into the sea – the barrier islands move around, eroding here, building up there, and the ground between the lighthouse and the waves was rapidly disappearing.  In 1999, they cut away the foundation, put the structure up on jacks, and used the Egyptian method to shift it 180 feet inland.  They got it in the ground again a mere three weeks before the next hurricane blew through.  The NPS had this one open to the public – for $6/ea we climbed the 208 foot lighthouse and had a marvelous view of three islands and the sea.



That evening, we set up camp at Frisco, called home to moms (hey, it was Mother’s Day!), and spent some time assembling the kite we’d picked up at Kitty Hawk Kites (a wonderful store, we recommend it).  We hiked down a long, partially sunken boardwalk and amongst the sunbathers, 4x4ers, and shore fishermen got our own personal copy of the Wright Flyer off the ground.

Kite flying at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina  artistic

Kite flying at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina


The camp had unheated showers and we used them, much to the amusement to the Hoofers-like crowd of kayaking neighbors.  It was nice to be around a large group outing that wasn’t poorly behaved, it restores our faith in humanity.  Gosh, I sound like my grandparents.


Anyway, we took the free ferry to Ocracoke Island and crossed to the narrow roaded tourist town beside the next toll ferry terminal and started to make a crock pot meal for dinner later, and stuck the pot in the sink for travel – this comes up later in the story, keep an eye on it.  On both ferry trips, a trio on recumbent bicycles gathered on the deck, and on the second trip, we spent some time with Angela, Brian, and David and their two dogs.  Wonderful people from Virginia, they were doing a week long tour with two Bob trailers and a Burley for the dogs.






We stopped in Beauford and hired a boat to take us over to Shackleford Island on Andy Block’s suggestion (pull the crock pot out of the sink, fill waterbottles, grab hats & cameras & barely make it to our ride in time). This 9 mile island is a long dune barrier, covered in scrub, stunted trees, and sea oats, with a fresh water spring that mingles with seawater in a large landward marsh.  What makes it unique is the descendents of the Spanish mustangs shipwrecked here a hundred years ago or so.  They’re now firmly entrenched in the ecosystem – they produce manure, on which the plants grow, which they eat.  Of course, they’re much smaller to be more efficient with their fuel – technically, they’re ponies – and they have an extra vertebrae that distinguishes them from more modern stranded horses.  Like in Beak of the Finch, this shows Darwin was right except for the timescale.  Of the 100 horses on the island, we saw maybe 10 in an hour of hiking and seashell collecting, and then returned to mainland.





We drove out of down town and then hit a grocery store to stock up. . .and turning into the drive, the crockpot slid across the counter and onto the floor, missing several disposable targets to spill some of it’s contents on the van’s carpeting.  Not too much spilled out, so we reheated the remaining & set it to cook while we shopped.  Around sunset, we found a boatlaunch to dine at, and between helpings, Scott managed to drop his bowl completely out of the van.  Regardless, we thought it was a tasty dish, and have christened it “Cursed Beans and Ham” – here’s the recipe

Cursed Beans and Ham


Ham Chips (8 oz pkg available vacuum sealed in southern states)
Baked beans (1 large can)
Maple Syrup (dollup)
Fresh rosemary & basil, diced (just a smidge each)

To create:

  • Soak ham chips in water for about 5 minutes to reduce the salt.  Discard water.
  • Dice apple to bite sized chunks.
  • Combine apple, ham, baked beans, herbs and syrup.  Add just enough water so you can bring mixture to a boil.
  • Boil for 10 minutes
  • Seal up crockpot (or reduce to low if electric) and secure – this is the point in which it gets feisty.  Cook about 6 hours.


We arrived outside of Charleston just before noon and started our visit with a tour of the Yorktown air craft carrier at Patriot Point.  It’s a big ship.  Built for WWII, it’s also an old ship – no computers.  That amazed me over everything else.  We were able to crawl around the flight deck, bridge, brigg, print shop, mess, etc – even the convoluted pipe runs of the engine room.



There are actually 5 or 6 ships at Patriot Point, but we only toured the Yorktown and the Clamagore, a WWI submarine, before we piled into a tour ship for a trip out to Fort Sumpter.


For those whom high school history was a long time ago, this was the site of the opening volley of the Civil War (the “shot heard round the world” was a different war, folks).  The ranger there was working on his doctorate in History and was a wonderful storyteller, giving a history lecture that had the whole lot of us laughing.  It seems Anderson (Union) was only stationed in Charleston for a month before the succession, and was then ordered to secure all five federal properties around the harbour.  He had a complement of 85 men, and 13 of them were musicians.  So he choose Sumpter as most defendable – he’d been an artillery teacher at West Point – and snuck out there in the cover of night.  Beauregard (Confederate) was chosen mostly because the south thought he’d be able to sweat talk the island away from the Union forces – he’d been a student of Andersons, then his TA, and a close family friend.  Well, both of them were stubborn, and when resupply of the island by the north was imminent, the south fired cannon from the other 4 positions around the bay, and their was a 34 hour artillery duel, during which no one was hurt.  However, the hot shot caused a fire near the powder magazine, and Anderson had enough men to either ignore the fire and continue to defend the fort, or surrender and put out the fire before it blew them up.   What would you do?  The only men injured, by the way, were during an accident in the surrender ceremony.  After the Civil War and during the Spanish-American War (1898), they filled sand into the cannon emplacements and built this huge black concrete monstrosity in the middle of the fort.   Ugly, but it preserved the cannons from salt water corrosion.







Done with history?  No, not yet.  We headed into downtown Charleston and wandered through the old Market district looking for a steak joint.  Tbonz Brewpub was tasty and made a good amber, though I found their wheat a little too carbonated.  Scott, who’d been good natured about the Cursed Beans and other short meals, was able to eat his fill.  We headed over to the waterfront and out on the town promenade – we were particularly impressed that Charleston had public porch swings on long pier.  Then we sat in front of the deli, waiting for 9pm and our Ghost Tour guide.

The Ghost Tours walk you through the old downtown district and tell stories of suicides and drownings and odd postmortem happenings that are blamed on the deceased.  Our guide, Matt, was graduating that Sunday in history & architecture and told us to ask him any question, he’d have the answer or make one up –it was a good time.

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Native American Museum

Originally posted on May 04, 2005

The story goes that the military, when serving in the nation’s capital, got hazardous duty pay due to the malarial swamp on which DC was built. That’s all been filled in, and the lawns are completely artificial, all trees are planned, and each water rivulet contained.

I was particularly touched by the restored wetland in front of the Native American Museum. It wasn’t original, but it did resemble a self contained ecosystem.

The building itself is made of stone and has few straight lines, resembling the sandstone bluffs from the Midwest, and is a stark contrast to the stately colonnaded marble structures around it. Everyone enjoys the exterior waterfall, which splashes across the boulders to a black stone river that flows along the base of the building.

Inside, a large circular lobby resembles the southwestern Kiva, wooden ladder replaced with a stairway that climbs up to the fourth floor. I assume the other museums were each purpose built, with IMAX technology and ceiling heights appropriate for their cruise missiles, tyrannosaurs, or sculptures, but this building really seems to be a part of the exhibit rather then just a place to house it.

The theater on the upper floor was definitely purpose built. A three-sided screen made of woven rugs sits in the center of circular seating, with a curved ceiling overhead and a large, somewhat fake looking boulder below. The lights go down and the presentation includes projections planetarium-like above, on the flat weavings in front, and from within the boulder below – each different image synced and relevant to the show. The effect was technologically cool, as well as a great introduction to the rest of the museum.

In the large exhibit room spaces, the no-straight-lines theme continued, which like modern housing development, curved around to make as many nooks and crannies, often one per nation or region for the exhibition theme. For instance, in the “Our Universe” area we saw colors, critters, myths and societal roles for something like 25 different tribes, from the Arctic to the Andes.

I particularly liked the introduction to the “Our Peoples” exhibit, in which you stand surrounded by oil painted portraits of native americans from the 1800s while a video message extols you to remember that one generation’s unthinkable is another’s fact, and visa versa, and to be skeptical about what one sees within the museum – it reminded me of a high school lecture from Mr. Helm on mindset that I’d then-translated to “the victor writes the history”, but now view as a pleasant invitation to think for myself. Following this was a historical perspective – little blame, no accusations – of what happened as the Europeans invaded, from the decimation by Eurasian diseases, to the conversions to Christianity via persuasion, assimilation, and force, to the Trail of Tears, to finally winning court battles. Again densely packed, the exhibit included not only text descriptions, but also objects like a wall of intricate gold jewelry decorations and the lump-like bar that similar items had been melted into before being shipped to Spain, beaded and translated bibles, and weapons from various era and numerous tribes.

The spiral path through this museum was story based, all the way to the typical museum basement cafeteria, which was atypical in that it was not overpriced mcFood, but instead overpriced Native American treats – salmon and fry bread, local greens, and buffalo.  The experience was definitely more educational than many other museums at the Smithonian.

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DC Summary, and the Storm 

Originally posted on May 08, 2005

Let’s see, since last I wrote, we visited a lot of museums, monuments, and historical documents., although not everything on the DC mall. Some of these were discussed in a previous posting, but they all kinda run together, so here’s the complete list, with commentary:
The Nation’s Front Yard: The grass that runs the length of the mall has worn sections, lush sections, and is full of weeds. A good metaphor, I suppose.

The Capital: Thought about dropping in on Congressman Feingold, but didn’t.
The White House: Not nearly as impressive a building as the Executive Offices next door, which was a gothic, forbidding structure. Not that we went into either.

The Washington Monument: Under construction – or rather, the grounds were being re-landscaped. Several people mentioned that additional security stuff was added while the structure was completely closed. These supposed underground bunkers are now covered with dirt and the monument tours are available again. We went up & looked through the tiny windows – only four, the others are now blocked off, with what I think were security cameras behind the plywood. Did you know that the structure is 555 feet high and dry-stacked? There’s no mortar there, the blocks are held together by the weight.
National Museum of American History: Illogical exhibit layout, way too crowded, but had some highpoints, like the house that they re-constructed 7 glimpses of the families who lived there over the last 200 years.
Smithsonian Castle: The red brick building contrasted the rest of the mall, but didn’t seem to have much inside it.
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden: Particularly liked the thumb sculpture, but these artists didn’t have the sense of humor that some of the other collections had.
National Air and Space Museum: Swarms of teens with bad manners and no desire for education detracted from the exhibits, but we were able to see the parts that interested us most – the Wright Flyer (flown just a few miles from where we currently wait out this storm), the Lunar Module, the Space Race exhibit, and warbirds. We even eventually went to the IMAX theatre to see the International Space Station 3D show (Scott, who sees only out of one eye, didn’t appreciate the orange heading straight for the audience, but the subject matter was good).
National Museum of Natural History: The Chicago Field Museum is a better museum, but this one had a good exhibit on meteorites, which we’d seen a documentary on at Uncle David’s. We also saw the orchid display, which was cool, and the ever-popular dinosaur bones. The Hope Diamond was on display as part of the gemology exhibit, but the museum closed around our ears as we approached it, so we never saw it. We caught this on a Sunday, and while the place was crowded, it wasn’t the hordes of unsupervised teens from school trips we encountered during the week.
National Postal Museum: One story and more fun then you’d think. A good old-fashioned walk through of a pony express route, explanation of stamp printing techniques, and some high tech interactive displays.
National Museum of the American Indian: This one is new, and many of my readers may not be aware of this gem yet – I’ve got a complete description here, but the building was extremely well suited for it’s topic, very organic. The displays were technologically cool and the most educational we saw on the entire mall. We loved it and recommend it as a first stop for anyone.

National Geographic Explorer Hall: Bust. This was made out to be a museum, but actually had only a small Peruvian art collection on display. Oh, and the window-walk, a handful of displays of artifact recreations thru the windows on the exterior of the building. Skip this.
National Botanical Garden: We had a rainy afternoon, so we stopped in, and ended up taking a ton of photos. It included a formal atrium and several rooms like “Jungle” and “Medicinal”, and even had a room to show rare plants that were illegally gathered, and then seized by the cops.

World War II Memorial: A new water display, we toured it during the daytime with the throngs of visitors – I particularly liked the bronze reliefs of scenes of soldier’s lives – and then we came back to wait for dusk and see it light up.

Lincoln Memorial: Impressive, but the teens spoiled the show. I wonder when it’s empty? When we were shooting the light display at WWII in the dark, we could still see hordes of people on the steps.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden: Whimsical. One piece did a 3D reverse on you, another was a giant architect’s eraser (the old fashioned wheel kind).
Naval Memorial: Not dissimilar to the WWII memorial, but smaller, away from the mall, and devoted to naval scenes.
Canadian Embassy: We at first thought it was another monument – it’s an interestingly shaped building. Thought of Brian, Canadian foreign national back in Madison.
Udvar-Hazy Center: An annex of the Air & Space Museum but stored way out at Dulles. We thought about taking the shuttle out there, but it was $12/head and an hour each way, so we waited until we were on our way out of town and stopped in. Parking was still $12, but per car, not per person. Saw one of the Wright Flyer’s contenders, which looked like the aeronaut was reading too much Jules Verne. Lockheed’s SR71 Blackbird took up a lot of the floor space, but the planes were hanging everywhere, and the guide looked like some weird fossil record. The Enterprise was there – the space shuttle without engines that performed the glide tests but never left atmosphere – as was the Enola Gay, a Concorde, and models of the Mars Rover. Scott poked around at absolutely everything, until I was certainly over-museumed.

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We left DC in rush hour traffic (at 3pm?) and crept down thru Virginia, aiming for a little campsite that our guidebook says was free, but turned out to be non-existent. After sleeping in a BBCS parking lot, we drove into town to find a more pleasant park to cook breakfast in, and discovered we were in Colonial Williamsberg. Whist the omelets were frying, a local architect stopped by and talked us in to taking a stroll – we ended up spending half a day touring the 1700’s re-creation.



We enjoyed ourselves (and the Virginia ham muffins!) but wanted to head on down the road to Norfolk for our next full-scale exhibit.
The U.S.S. Wisconsin was originally launched in 1943, and has been retired three or four times since then. Most recently, she’s been tied up at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum, with no fuel and no ammo and no visitors allowed below decks. We wandered the various teak and steel decks and peeked in porthole windows of the Iowa class battleship and played “guess that missile launcher” before going into the museum and getting an in depth look at Norfolk’s roles in the civil war and other naval skirmishes.



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Falling water & DC

(Originally posted on Apr 30, 2005 – 05:03 PM)

Affectionately known as the Yawk, the Youghlogheny River seems to be a whitewater
kayaking haven in the middle of Ohiopyle State Forest – which strikes me as
an odd name for a park in Pennsylvania. But we stayed there after a trip through
the local Frank Lloyd Wright shrine.


Falling Water

When I called to reserve some places on the tour, the receptionist asked me how I’d heard of Falling Water. I thought back quickly, and really couldn’t say when I’d first heard of it. After working for Marshall (with the photos of him and Wright about the office) and spending time in Spring Green (a common take out point for canoeists and home of Taliesin), the question feels like “when did you hear about gravity?”

The tour was great, and I recommend it to anyone in the area – cost was only $13/person, and no photos of the interior are allowed. The rooms are smaller then the stock photos imply, but the windows do make the spaces connect to the balconies and outdoors. The doors and halls, however, are tiny by anyone’s standards.

Back in Ohiopyle, we set up camp for the night and decided to take advantage of the mostly unpopulated campground to share a shower – on the men’s side, figuring I’d shock fewer men then Scott would women. We quickly discovered a lack of hot water, and so lathered and rinsed in a speedy manner. . .and then discovered that only the stall we’d used had the cold-only option. Oh well.

In the morning, Scott worked on some photos while I hiked down to the Yawk, and then we packed up and moved on. After some miles had passed, we stopped to hike the Appalachian Trail – about a quarter mile of it, just off the interstate.

20050430_2005_IMG_120420050430_2005_IMG_1283Finally arriving in DC, we have made ourselves at home in my sister’s basement, bikes leaning against my brother in law’s bookshelves (blocking his access to Shakespeare and Merrill), and completely disrupting the life of the family cats. Are we staging protests, are we petitioning congress? No, we’re here for the museums.

Our first DC day included getting the van to the mechanic to have the AC fixed, then negotiating the bus system to get to the metro rail to get downtown, where we walked to the Smithsonian buildings. The weather was pleasant, so we did the outdoor monuments. We hiked along the mall, scared the ducks in the reflecting pool, and climbed the steps to the Lincoln Memorial. Signs ask for respect and quietness, but several unrelated herds of school field trips stampeded about, just being kids – but being an awful lot of them. We left and headed to the Vietnam Memorial – worse crowds of teens there. We left and headed to the Constitutional Gardens and found a little solitude along the pond banks. We didn’t find any flowers though – it was more like the Constitutional Patch of Trees and Bushy Shrubs. Still, we found a quiet bench and ate our brown bag lunch in peace.

The afternoon was spent in the Museum of American History, which didn’t seem to be organized much. The exhibits jumped from presidential assassinations to textile production without any sort of framework. Again we were mobbed by teens in matching school t-shirts, and it got the best of me – I had to head out side and sit down in the shade for a while as Scott finished off the third floor. Then back on the train to get to the bus to get the van from the garage – burned out diode. The mechanics at Quality Discount Tire & Auto were really great, and pretty impressed with the Sportsmobile. They had the webpage up when we showed up, and we gave them the standard tour before driving away.

Another day, another museum. The National Space and Aviation Museum has all the toys. Scott spent a lot of time with the Wright boys, feeling a connection because his grandfather used to pick up the papers for his newspaper route at Orville & Wilbur’s bicycle shop in Dayton. We toured the mock up of Skylab (along with, you guessed it, lemming- like masses of students), discovered the lunar lander’s tinfoil coating is actually a reflective plastic, and used the interactive stations to bring up a satellite image of Madison (google maps have better resolution). Our stamina was a bit better on day two, as we were able to tour the complete 3 story museum, and still walk past the Grant Memorial at the base of the capital, navigate the streets and construction mazes over to the basement-level National Postal Museum. Having recently finished Terry Pratchett’s “Going Postal“, I couldn’t resist. And it was pretty interesting, with collections, descriptions of stamp production, and some holographic Pitney-Bows display, for which I paid more attention to the mechanics then the content. We got kicked out of that museum (it was closing time), and headed back to the metro at Union Station. To return for dinner with my relatives, we exited the metro at Wheaton Station, which my brother in law tells me has the longest escalator in the western hemisphere, and then hike about a mile through the nearly identical little red brick houses.

More photos at: http://www.lightsmithy.com/collections/01parks/east/dc

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A Day at Ray’s

(Originally posted on Apr 25, 2005 – 07:42 PM)

If you’re in the mountain bike world and you have been living under a rock, it’s possible you haven’t heard of Ray’s. Write ups in Dirt Rag, Bike, Bicycle Retailer, et cetera, have spread the word – “If you build it, they will come.”

IMG_1071We did.

Today I balanced on a boardwalk, four feet in the air, and rolled onto a teeter-toter that dropped me onto a lower boardwalk and then to a rough log pile and finally back to concrete. All around me, gentlemen half my age were flying thru the air with the greatest of ease. A nine-year-old was doing stunts I wouldn’t consider.

The thing about Ray’s is, all the technical pieces are set right next to each other in a generally logical progression: boardwalk, skinny, bumps, banked corner, raised boardwalk, combo skinny & bumps, etc until you find yourself on things you wouldn’t have considered.

Consider the suspension bridge. I’ve found them in the wild, complete with cable railing and warning signs. At Ray’s, there are no safety rails, but a friendly fellow rider showed me how to lean into the front tire and pop up onto the boardwalk on the combination ramp and suspension bridge skinny (about 8 inches wide . . . don’t worry, Mom, it was only a foot or so up in the air). I was coached and able to repeat the stunt over and over until I got it.

We took some photos – some of us, some of the random riders who didn’t get enough over the weekend and were hanging out on a Monday night out under the sky-light warehouse roof, practicing their jumps. Of course the locals are good, they’ve been playing in here all winter. But they are also already planning to revamp, re-ramp, and re-model for next year, so that every fall will have a new combination of trails at Ray’s Indoor Mtb Park.




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Ohio Relatives

Day One:
On April 20, 2005, we had a few errands and tasks:

Clean the last room of the house
Close on the house
Sign things at insurance agents office
Take road bike and misc electronics to ebay consignment
Return to house, assemble fridge and pick up last load
Deliver load to various storage lockers
Stop at DMV to register vehicle and update licenses
Stop at PlanetBike for an extra chain
And then we were able to finally leave town, only about 3 hours behind schedule, and slightly under organized. Drove as far as Plymoth, IN, and slept in a BBCSP*.

Day Two:
Drove to Huntington IN with Maldon Locksmiths, where the Sportsmobile factory installed a furnace into the van. We spent a lot of time sitting around. I toured the town on the bicycle while Scott did some paying work on the computer. Finding an arboretum trail on the college campus, I headed into wooded areas, then realized I was riding helmetless, probably on an illegal trail, wearing a bike patrol jacket. Oops.
Day Three:
Now in Ludlow Falls, OH, where Uncle David is helping us create a lighter, lower bunk for the van. David’s woodworking workshop is incredible, although I couldn’t take the several inches of sawdust on the floor so I swept while he wasn’t looking. Scott had an adventure getting some records out of Montgomery County and we met with all the Wintermute relatives.
Day Four:
A side trip to visit Scott’s Nana and Frey relatives while David is finishing up the carpentry included moving furniture for Aunt Margaret and Uncle Tony, as well as doing a little network repair. Everyone is feeding us, and the weather outside is frightful – rainy with a little bit of snow – so we’re not getting that highly active lifestyle everyone thinks we are. More later.

BBCSP = Big Box Chain Store Parking Lot – you know who I mean, don’t expect me to help advertise for them. We’ll sleep there, but we don’t shop there. Support the local economies and all.

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T-minus 18 days

Walkabout: A temporary return to traditional nomadic life, taken especially between periods of work or residence and usually involving a period of travel through the bush.

There is way too much to see and do to limit travels to the American version of an annual 2-week vacation from work. And rather then wait for our retiring years, we’re taking the opportunity to see the sights while we still have the knees and lungs to hike the Rockies, to bike the Appalachians, to kayak the Inside Passage.

So we’ve compiled a map – and recommend this to any of you. We took a 44″ map of the US and hung it on the wall, using post-it flags to note where we definitely want to go (red), where we’d sorta like to go (yellow), where we’d go if we were in the neighborhood (green), and where kind souls who’d let us borrow their shower are located (blue). Separately, we’ve made a book noting each flag’s point of interest. Immediately, we noted a dearth of destination flags in the Midwest, where we currently live. Hmm. This is going to take some time.


The Sportsmobile van has solved many of the comfort problems of living on the road without being a huge and expensive RV that cannot fit in a normal parking stall. All we need in order to stop for the night is a flat piece of ground – free camping in BLM property, inexpensive public campgrounds, friend’s & relative’s driveways, or big-box chain-store parking lots (you know the one I mean, but we won’t shop there – are we taking advantage of them?). And having our own kitchen allows us to eat cheaper and healthier then normal road fare.

So we put the house on the market this spring to see what would happen, and a week later it sold for a good deal more then we’d expected, giving us the ability to save a chunk for the next home down-payment and still afford to travel a while. But our timeline has suddenly gotten rather short.


March 19 – House sold. Asked for $155,000. Sold for $183,000 after a bidding war.

March 21 – Rita gave notice at her job. Currently, the boss is still threatening to velco her to her chair, but is actually jealous of the trip idea. Scott has by this time spoken with his various clients and made arrangements.

April 2 – Garage sale on Jenifer St. We’re hauling what we don’t want to store over to Michele’s place because the city has chosen this spring to start tearing up the street at our place. Oh well, there’ll be more pedestrian traffic over there. Any truck-owners are welcome to assist in the shifting of stuff.

April 9 – Keepsakes and furniture starts heading over to a storage facility . . or rather, several different locations. Thanks to those who’ve volunteered to store some of our eclectic gear for several months, and especially Scott’s Mom for taking in the library.

April 15 – Rita’s last day. Final weekend to see the local yokels and empty the house. Again, oh truck owners, your presence would make our lives so much easier.

April 16 – House cooling party. The quintessential house warming party involves house warming gifts. We want to get rid of stuff. Bring a bag (and BYOB, except you should drink our wine) Monetary donations accepted of course. Also, see the last showing of Scott’s photo gallery and tour the new “home”.

April 20 – Close on house, hand over keys, and be officially homeless.

As of this writing, we’ve still got to sell vehicles and find a home for the adorable 14 year old grey indoor cat (healthy, fully armed but friendly to bipeds). Any takers, please contact us.

General trip plans include starting off to the east, visiting relatives and friends and the Smithonian, then heading south to the Smokies. Swinging through the home town to grab our kayak trailer, we’d then be working our way to Alaska by mid July, and back to Glacier by August, followed by some time exploring the Rockies and Pacific. How much we do and how long it takes really depends on how much fun we’re having, how long we can stand to live in close quarters, and how long the budget holds out.

We will continue to be electronically connected to the world and hope you visit our site at www.fx4.net while we catalog our adventures – hopefully meeting up with many of you while on walkabout.

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Gardening: Prepping for Veggies

The rains are mostly done, and we are coming out of hibernation, or the post move in & remodel coma. Before we take on important tasks like insulation & house painting, we need a bite to eat. Vegetable beds need to get started!

The front yard has an underutilized corner that gets afternoon sun. I called over some friends and we removed a volunteer maple, several ferns, and a rose bush which we transplanted out back. Then we sculpted the terrace and dropped in some garden boxes. We've situated them just forward of the decommisioned oil tank that's buried next to the house, as I really don't want the lettuce immediately atop it, just in case.

Amanda has a vocal pet peeve about folks who put down garden boxes on slopes and then wonder why their soil sloughs out, so we pulled out the digital level – Scott managed to get it perfectly level on the second try.

The I spent some time sifting together a growing medium. Yes, I have a dirt recipe. I found this out when we were trying to garden in Hood River, where the lot was hardened bentonite. It takes 7 years to condition soil from mediocre to good gardening, and I don't have that patience. So I mix together vermiculite, peat moss, and compost, and viola, instant soil. In future years, I'll just need to add more compost, but the mixture is really hard to overwater.

In addition, Scott put the blueberries in the ground. We actually bought two blueberry plants from a commercial location and have had them in pots for two years. I'm not talking about those little 6″ plants – these are 4' high. One looks like it didn't make it, but it's been trimmed back to nothing but two little green shoots, and we'll see what happens. Blueberries like acid soil, though, and Scott forgot to add sulfer before putting the plants in the holes. We'll see what we can do with surface application, and use the pine needles from the back yard to mulch them in.


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