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Monday, August 31, 2009
Going on hiatus....
I'll be spending the next few weeks traveling and I'll be tied up with some other things that are going to keep me busy through the end of September. If everything goes as planned I should be back around these parts with a slew of photos and anecdotes during the first week of October.
I'll still be Twittering though. So if you're in the mood for blurry iPhone photos and 120-character vacation updates, feel free to head over here.
Oh, and where am I headed? Just a harmless little arts festival in Northern Nevada. Shouldn't be too terribly exciting. Just a nice, restful week in the middle of a wasteland filled with 50,000 insomniacs.
So if I don't make it out of there alive, may the wind always be at your back and may the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows. Take care and thanks for reading.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Expedition: St Helens
The whole thing seemed like such a great idea back in February. "Hey, let's climb a volcano this summer." This plan first emerged as a few friends and I were working our way through a third pitcher of Henry's at the Goose Hollow Inn. Usually plans conjured up at the tavern wither and die by the time we pay the tab but this one took flight. Within a few days, the number of people on board for the "expedition" had gone from three to a dozen.
Six months and numerous day hikes later, the twelve of us met on a trailhead on the edge of Mount St. Helens. I'm not old enough to remember its epic eruption in 1980 but I was in town back in 2005 when it started rumbling again. If you had asked me back then if I would ever one day climb up to the crater and peer inside I'm sure I would have said, "uhhhh, no flippin' way."
The volcano was obscured by fog and clouds but we all knew what we were up against. Four hours of shin-busting scrambling along trails and boulders followed by a final 1,000+ foot slog up a pumice and ash covered incline leading to the crater. How much were we all paying for this lovely little nature walk? $22 a head for the climbing permits.
Within an hour, those of us who had spent the summer training for the hike had already been upstaged by those who hadn't. The four of us who were supposedly well-prepared for this adventure opted to go the "slow and steady" route, stopping to take photos, chug water, eat Scooby Doo fruit snacks and, for reasons probably too pointless to explain here, perform impromptu kabuki. Dan, if the whole law thing ever sputters out, I think you should consider a career in live theater.
Once we cleared the boulders, we caught up with a group of women in their 50s all hellbent on conquering the volcano. Regardless of age, the final, cruel ascent to St. Helens' crater has a way of equalizing hikers as they lose their footing in the ash and slide a foot for every five feet of elevation gained. It's like climbing up a giant sand dune.
I found myself marching alongside a gal from Michigan. She had spent the summer on a Stairmaster preparing for this and wasn't about to let anyone else in her group beat her to the top. We each had to stop about every 10 yards to catch our breath and cough up dust. Despite decades of hiking she had never subjected herself to anything like this. I finally decided to blast up the final few hundred feet, despite my burning knees. I never did find out if she won her race.
The rest of our group had reached the crater a good 45 minutes before my fellow stragglers and I. By this point, we had climbed above the clouds and could see over them all the way to Mt. Hood. I'd seen photos of the crater before but I was still half-expecting to find a black hole filled with lava. Instead, the interior of St. Helens is more like a gigantic canyon with a lake and a steaming dome.
The edge of the crater was also much smaller than I had predicted, maybe ten feet from the incline to the drop-off. Our group leader, who had been up there before, advised us to stay away from the edge because of the possibility that the ground could give way underneath us at any given second. The casualness of all of the other hikers up there gave us a false sense of security that inevitably led to a photo of my sister pretending to toss me into the volcano. Ahhh, cherished family memories of wanton recklessness. Right after we took the photo a loud rock slide began on an opposite wall of the crater, a not-so casual reminder of how dangerous the edge of a volcano tends to be.
The ascent had been difficult but the worst part of the hike had yet to come. Getting back down over the boulders was an endurance test that led to a substantial amount of frustration. And by "substantial amount of frustration" I mean "lots of swearing while nimble teenagers on a church field trip blasted past us at 50 million miles an hour." Lousy kids! Get off my lawn! Er, volcano! Mumble....mumble....The Price is Right hasn't been the same since Bob left....where's the clicker....mumble....mumble.....
Around the time I slipped and busted a gallon-sized jug of water in my backpack I swore that I would never, ever set foot on a hiking trail again. Of course, this vow was immediately forgotten once we reached the treeline and marched back to the car past acres of wildflowers glowing in the late August sun. There's already talk of heading up South Sister sometime next year and we still have yet to make it to the top of Mt. Thielsen.
And to my knees I apologize in advance.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Photos from the soapbox derby
I caught the tail end of the 2009 Portland Adult Soapbox Derby last Saturday. I didn't make it in time to witness the final fate of the Flinstones racer. Did listening to the organizers scream "GET OFF THE TRACK" over and over again make up for it? Uh, not really.
Rough estimate of the number of belligerent requests it takes for the crowd to actually clear the way for the racers: 10.
A few photos from the last hour or so of this year's race:
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The Lightning Rod of the Cascades
Head south along highway 230 in southern Oregon and you'll come across Mount Thielsen, an extinct volcano that rises up like a gigantic, raggedy arrowhead over Diamond Lake. When I first saw a photo of its peak what sprung to mind was the last ten minutes of Fantasia. Thielsen definitely looks like it might serve as an after-hours hang-out for a classical-music loving demon and his undead entourage.
My friend Pete, who currently works for the US Forest Service, managed to make it all the way to the top of this bugger back in 2005. As intimidating as the mountain looks from the highway, a path leading to the peak is considered one of the best day hikes in the state. This is odd, considering that Thielsen's nickname is the "Lightning Rod of the Cascades." Bolts hit the peak so often that many of the rocks up there have melted into lechatelierite.
Oh, and I should mention that one side of the peak is a sheer cliff face with a several thousand foot drop.
It should come as no surprise that I thought it would be a brilliant idea to call up Pete and have him lead myself and two colleagues, one of whom suffers from mild vertigo, up the mountain. We set out early one morning during the heat storm at the end of July. The first thing that greeted us on the trailhead were roaming packs of mosquitoes that seemed to follow us for the first mile or so.
To call the hike "strenuous" would be an understatement. "A major pain in the ass" is probably more befitting. By 10 AM the temperature was already in the 80s. A series of winter wind storms had decimated large stretches of forest, leaving us exposed to the unforgiving Douglas County sunshine. Once we reached the timberline, the air temperature had dropped but the trail disappeared. The terrain quickly turned into a steep incline covered in slippery rocks and pumice.
At the two hour mark, the sky overhead was growing dark. Two ominous clouds, one over Diamond Lake, the other coming in from the north, seemed to be headed on a collision course over the peak. Undaunted, we kept going for another hour but finally decided to turn back once the winds picked up. Heading down after conquering roughly 90% of the mountain was a bitter disappointment that only beer and the promise of a spaghetti dinner could wash away.
Safety first. After all, a 300,000 ton lighting rod is nothing to mess around with. A couple coming up behind us bagged it too, not because of the weather but because of altitude sickness (yikes). As we were coming down we encountered a middle-aged man dressed in a yellow spandex shirt and biker shorts. He had the determined look of a half-crazed pioneer. I asked him if he was shooting for the peak and he said he would only turn back if the weather turned truly nasty. As we hit the timberline, Pete surveyed the peak. Sure enough, he had made it to the top. We could see a triumphant, yellow spot darting around up there. I took this photo of him:
And so we trudged back to a swimming hole near Pete's homestead in the little town of Tiller. We'd been shown up by a guy probably 20 years older than us. On the plus side, none of us were struck by a bolt of lightning that afternoon.
Until we meet again, Mount Thielsen.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Will there ever be a Sunday when everyone get to drive on the sidewalks?
Every year on the second Sunday morning in August the city and Providence Medical Center join forces to shut down Portland's bridges in order to turn them over to bicycle traffic. Woe be it the traveler that wakes up late for a flight. I'm sure every year at least a few of them frantically blast up I-5 only to find their path to the Marquam Bridge blocked by thousands of bicyclists gleefully pedaling along the freeway.
The annual Providence Bridgepedal basically brings auto traffic in the middle of Portland to a grinding halt. Nevertheless, it's a blast if you've got a bike and nothing better to do but sleep. This was the second year I've participated and also the second year where I've had to jump off an old mountain bike and push it up the incline on the Fremont Bridge while my younger sister barrels up it no time flat.
We made the mistake of signing up for the six bridge "family ride." My dreams of blasting down the interstate on two wheels were quickly dashed by thousands of 7 year-olds weaving across lanes and the frantic arm-waving of volunteers determined to get me to slow down.
I can only assume that the more hardcore eight and eleven bridge rides earlier in the morning better accommodate would-be speed demons. Safety first, people. A quick mistake can quickly lead to mayhem out there. As I was coming down off the Fremont, a small pirate flag flew off a lady's baby carriage. She quickly pulled over, forcing another rider to slam on his brakes as someone else plowed into him. So this is why participants are forced to wear bike helmets.
While the organizers fixed the snafu that caused a huge bottleneck near the Ross Island Bridge in 2007, two train delays bogged things down. One delay in Old Town, a mere few blocks from the end of the ride, seemed to drag on forever. And the train was from Canada. Why are Canadians sending their trains through our city on Sunday mornings? Bah, humbug!
Waiting just past the finish line were volunteers from the Sunshine Dairy who frantically tossed out cartons of free chocolate milk to riders. Because there's nothing more refreshing after a 14+ mile bike ride than 2% moo juice. It's a weird place for a dairy to hand out free samples but no one was complaining.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Shatner of the Mount
I haven't been able to get this song out of my head since it was posted on Blogtown a while back. It's a remix of some sort of promotion that William Shatner made for the fifth Star Trek movie. In a few weeks, I'm supposed to be heading up Mt. St Helens with a dozen people, all of them who will no doubt have to listen to me sing horribly out-of-tune excerpts the entire way up.
Or not. I figure I'll be shanked no more than 200 yards from the trailhead.
Friday, August 07, 2009
Oh, sweet Cheesus
If you head east down NE Alberta you will find a silver trailer next to a school bus and a series of picnic tables. Inside this trailer there is a cheeseburger. A cheeseburger worthy of both admiration and fear.
They call it "The Cheesus Burger" but it does not like you. It will not tell you to love your neighbor. It will not turn your water into wine. It will not look good on a candle or in a nativity scene. Nor is it willing to die for your sins. In fact, I strongly suspect that this cheeseburger is far more interested in clogging your arteries, whittling months off our your expected lifespan and possibly making you rip a hole in your bicycle shorts after the spandex struggles and fails to hold back a cascading wave of quickly expanding Cheesus-fueled butt flab.
And you can have a Cheesus Burger to call your own for the low, low price of $8. Get 'em while they're hot at the Grilled Cheese Grill.
I gave one of these burgers a shot and only managed to consume the first half. I'll admit, I'm a lightweight. Still, ladies and gentleman, this is a Serious Burger. Oh, sure, the Voodoo Doughnut burger at The Original looks intimidating but it's nothing in comparison to The Cheesus. Here's a description from the grill's menu:
"The Soon-to-be-Famous Burger Behemoth. We’ve done away with the bun and replaced it with two grilled cheese sandwiches. That’s right, two of them. One on top, one on the bottom. Pickles and American cheese inside one, Grilled Onion and Colby Jack in the other. Lettuce, Tomato, Ketchup, Mustard, and 1/3lb Burger in between. You won’t need to eat again for 2 days. Comes with a bag of chips and a case of napkins."
I made the mistake of asking for a doggy bag after I had to tap out. I stupidly left the uneaten half in my car so I could meet up with a few friends at a bar down the street. When I got back, I swear I could hear the thing growling at me from the glove box.
Did I eat it? Dear God, no! What, do you think I'm crazy? I donated it to the Oregon Humane Society instead. I hope my unwanted Cheesus burger finds a loving home sometime soon.
The Grilled Cheese Grill has plenty of far more reasonable items on its menu and I recommend a sandwich called "The Pops" (Tomato, Havarti and Honey Mustard on Dave’s Killer Cracked Wheat). The grill is one of the weirder dinning establishments in Portland. It's not quite a food cart and it's not quite a restaurant. The grill opened in the spring and the school bus' indoor seating should keep things busy through the cold season.
The bus reminds me of the renovated trolley inside the Old Spaghetti Factory. The seats have been moved around to incorporate tables. An elaborate, psychedelic mural covers the ceiling. August's "Photo of the Month" (see above) features a mermaid and her Lucha Libre suitor from the mural. Unfortunately, her grilled cheese sandwich top had to be cropped out. Click here for an unedited view.
Oh, and the tables? They're decorated with old school portraits. That kid in the red? I'm pretty sure I went to high school with him. Sean Miller, if you're out there, is that a photo of you from middle school?
Definitely give the place a shot if you're ever in the area. They're open late on Fridays and Saturdays until 2:30 AM.
A post about summertime blogging, hiking and abandoned WW2 bunkers
It's officially midsummer, which means things around here have slowed to a crawl. Updates are less frequent, comments have dropped off and all the posts I do write tend to focus on beaches and hikes instead of people, places and things around town. Sorry about that. I know, I know. Some Portland-centric blogger I've turned out to be. Still, what can I say? The annual gravitational pull of the outdoors and day trips makes it difficult to seek out topics centered within the urban growth boundary.
This post, for example? It's going to be about Tillamook Head, a hiking trail that can be found on the edge of Seaside. It follows the same route the Lewis and Clark expedition took as they went in search of whale blubber. A viewpoint that now overlooks both the Pacific Ocean and the "Terrible Tilly" lighthouse is supposedly the furthest spot west the expedition reached before they turned south and wound up buying blubber from Native Americans at Cannon Beach.
Back then, the conditions were probably as muddy, if not more so, than the ones we faced a few weekends ago. Many parts of the trail were reduced to slushy bogs. 30 minutes in, my shins were covered in mud. I was with a friend visiting from the east coast and his tennis shoes were no match for the trail. While they'll live to see another day, his socks, sadly, did not survive the trek.
A few miles in there's a creepy circle of cabins in the woods. Without context, we felt like we were descending into a hidden settlement of monster-fearing colonialists. A sign explained that the cabins are actually available for backpackers looking to spend the night along the trail. Still, one mystery remains: why didn't any of the cabins have doors?
Another highlight of the trail is an old World War 2 bunker buried beneath a hillside near the Tillamook Head viewpoint. Its moss-covered lookouts and ventilation system are completely empty now but, back in the day, the six room concrete structure was used to house a radar installation. While we were there a group of backpackers were camping on top of it and singing along to random tracks from License to Ill.
What if a time quake or an out-of-control DeLorean had come along to send these campers 60 years into the past? I wonder what the soldiers stationed out there would have made of them all yelling "WHAT'S THE TIME? IT'S TIME TO GET ILL!" on top of their bunker.
The viewpoint was fogged in so I was only able to capture a blurry iPhone photo of a few waves. While the hike's payoff was obscured, we did get to watch a pair of eagles duck in and out of the clouds.