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Saturday, November 20, 2010
The day we conquered Mt. Thielsen
In the summer of 2009, three friends and I set out at dawn to climb to the top of Mt. Thielsen, AKA "The Lightening Rod of the Cascades."
With storm clouds gathering over head, we headed down the mountain in search of shelter. The mountain had beaten us but we vowed to return one sunny summer day for a second attempt.
That sunny summer day came this past July. Bryan, a member of the 2009 expedition, was forced to drop out this time around but another colleague, an unshakable man by the name of Tyler, took his place. My friends Dan and Pete, hellbent on beating this beast, also returned for round two.
And so we set out early after preparing ourselves mentally and physically the night before by....drinking heavily and swimming in the South Umpqua River. With Viso running through our veins and mosquitoes determined to follow us to the peak, we began our ascent at 8 AM.
No photos I've seen of this monster quite capture the "Night on Bald Mountain" vibe of the peak. This photo at least captures the "element of danger." Better yet, have a look at this one of the peak in the middle of winter. Yeah, that does the trick. I really want you to get a feel for how incredibly stupid climbing to the top of a "Lightening Rod of the Cascades" really is before you read the rest of this blog post.
Despite its jagged hell-peak, Mt. Thielsen is a fairly typical Oregon hiking spot. There's trees, rocks and more trees. Once you rise above the timberline, however, the real challenge begins. The final 1,000 feet to the peak are a slow, grueling trudge worthy of Mount Saint Helens' short but vicious final ascent.
As the slope became more treacherous and slippery, Dan, the only father in the group, felt the nagging pangs of responsibility and common sense kick in. "Guys, I don't want to make my 31-year old wife a widow. Also: I kinda like my kid. I'd like to see him again some day," he said before bowing out. Twenty minutes later, Tyler admitted that his sneakers just weren't meant for this journey. Or was it the other way around? Did Tyler punk-out before Dan? No matter. The mountain had successfully body-slammed their broken spirits.
Only Pete and I remained determined to reach the top. We handed Tyler a few provisions to tide him over, a copy of Rolling Stone with Lady Gaga on the cover and a Cliff Bar, and kept climbing.
As we neared "Chicken Point," my own sense of self-preservation started tugging at my shorts. We had conquered the slopes but what remained was a 3-story climb up a jagged incline with a few crevasses along the way. I began fretting that I would end up like that guy in 127 Hours...if I was lucky. Pete, who had reached the peak with a group of Fire Ranger pals in 2005, was not about to turn back. I'd come so far and my innate, dunderheaded masculine instincts began kicking in. I couldn't let this mountain think I was a pussy, now could I? Even if continuing onward might result in a grueling death? Wouldn't you have done the same?
I ditched my backpack, kept going and reached the peak. I threw my arms skyward. I felt ecstatic. My sense of self-worth shot through the stratosphere. I had conquered the "Lightening Rod of the Cascades." I was obviously now an official member of the GOD AMONG MEN Diners Club. Once I returned to civilization, anyone who had not climbed to the top of Mt. Thielsen would notice a halo around my head, which would magical instill in them instantaneous admiration for how awesome I had now become. Many men would quake at the mere sight of me. Meanwhile, a mere gaze in my general direction would cause women to have orgasms and, if they didn't immediately leave the room, become pregnant. With triplets. I was, simply put, now The Most Interesting Man on the Planet. By comparison, the Dos Equis Guy may as well have been an overweight house cat.
And then Pete immediately insisted that I peer over the edge on the other side of the tiny peak. The view? A 1,000 foot drop straight down into a small glacier. That boost of self-esteem? It immediately evaporated and a twinge of vertigo slapped me harder than an belligerent yeti. I literally started shaking. Up on this tiny, jagged peak in the dead center of nowhere, the same thought started playing over and over in my head: "Shit, I might actually die today."
Pete quelled the terror pumping through my soul with a large, rusted container someone had left up there. Inside were dozens of notes that other climbers had left behind, some dating back as far as the late '80s. I broke out my iPhone and we recorded what I was hoping would be the first of many Podcasts for this blog. Sadly, that recording was lost to the ages when my phone died a few weeks later.
The real fun began when we started our descent. A girl joined us up there while her boyfriend waited down below with their dogs. They had taken turns reaching the peak. She was petrified of heading back down and begged me to guide her after Pete bounded down the side in no time flat like the world's most death-defying billy goat. The drop-off beneath us as we clung to the side of Theilsen? At least 20 feet to a patch of jagged rocks. When it became obvious that I was just as scared, she took the lead.
My masculinity was crippled but at least I wasn't. I can't remember her name but I'm eternally thankful that this woman was able to suppress her own terror long enough to get us both off the peak. With her obligation fulfilled, she joined back up with her boyfriend and they bounced down the mountain, leaving me to sloooooooooooowly work my way back to the timberline. I've always had a hard time on slippery slopes like the ash field that leads to the crater on St. Helens or even my street when it's icy. I lose my sense of balance somehow and my legs are as useless as one of those giant robo-tanks on the Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
On my descent, I slipped and caused a minor avalanche. Down below, Pete saw the rock slide and panicked. He ran back up the slope, assuming he'd find me buried beneath a bolder. Once he spotted me teetering down the mountain like an elderly woman on a staircase, he headed off in search of Dan and the beer in his backpack.
Making it back to the timberline took what seemed like a million years. I cursed myself, the mountain and everything in sight- the trees, the rocks, my shoes, nearby Diamond Lake, the sky and Teddy Roosevelt for creating the National Park System. Tyler snapped a photo of me dumping rocks out of my boots once I made it back to "base camp." The image may as well be the definition of "pissed-off."
But the important part: I'm still alive. Which is at least half the battle, right? And, having reached the peak, I will never feel even the slightest twinge of desire to go anywhere near Mt Thielsen ever again.....a mountain I TOTALLY BITCH-SLAPPED THAT DAY! BOO-YAH! HOORAY FOR ME! IN YOUR FACE, NATURE!
Friday, November 19, 2010
Autumn in PDX....
November can be such a dreary month in Portland. Once Halloween is gone the city settles in for its long, gray winter/spring nap. The holidays, while right around the corner, still seem like they're a million miles away. But, occasionally, the rain stops and, if only for a few moments, this place starts looking like a dang calendar spread. Man, look at all that foliage! Suck it, Vermont!
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Wild Flag at the Doug Fir
The show had been sold out for days, if not for weeks. I arrived at the Doug Fir around 6:45 to grab dinner. I figured I could just saunter over to the box office about 15 minutes before it opened to snag a rush ticket. No dice. There was already a line 50 people standing out front.
And so I joined them in the mist and chatted with a guy in front of me and three girls huddled under an umbrella. It was well worth the wait. After the opening acts wrapped up, Sleater Kinney alums Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss casually strolled out onto stage to set things up. The crowd politely left alone as they ducked backstage before an introduction.
I'd never been to a show before where no one in the crowd was familiar with the band's music. Wild Flag, comprised of members of Sleater Kinney and Helium, don't even have a website up yet and have yet to release so much as a single, let alone an EP. There is a Facebook page though. Brownstein acknowledged this between songs and apologized for some early snafus during the first song. "We're still on training wheels up here."
Still, sweet Jesus, what a show. Wild Flag is like a pop-ier, funner version of Sleater Kinney with a dash of AC/DC tossed into the mix. Brownstein's much more unrestrained with her guitar work so there was plenty of shredding/solos between her and the other lead guitarist, Mary Lou Lord.
I recorded a few of songs and about half of a cover of a Rolling Stones tune before my iPhone ran out of juice. I wish I had held out until Brownstein's "Race Horse" song. Combined with cheesy lyrics straight out of a frat anthem you might find on "The Brew, it may as well have been stadium rock tossed into an angry, jilted lady shredder. "I'm a racehorse! I'm a racehorse! Get on and ride! But, no, you better run! You'd better ruuuuuuuuuuun!"
As you can see in this video, captured by another attendee, Brownstein jumped around a bit and was really into it. And then she collapsed to her knees. Mary did the same and they both sat there on stage waling/straddling their guitars for a bit, totally lost in the music.
Afterward, Carrie sheepishly smiled and looked over at Mary.
Carrie: "Oh, nothing."
Mary: [EYE ROLL]
Carrie: "Yeah, as you can tell, Mary's really shy."
Wild Flag's first album is due out in the early part of 2011.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
I wandered into line about 6:30 last night outside the Cinema 21. The show I had come for, the sixth annual HUMP! Amateur Porn Festival, had been sold out for days. Tickets went fast for all of this weekend's six screenings. I lucked out and managed to snag a rush ticket and was one of the last five "pervs" allowed into the theater. I managed to find a spot towards the back of the balcony and had to stand up the entire time.
I've been curious about the festival for a few years now. Given that HUMP! is sponsored by The Seattle Stranger and The Portland Mercury, I figured that the shorts would be closer in nature to a Suicide Girls spread than a RedTube video. And who comes to something like this? I figured the crowd would be comprised entirely of leering guys in trench-coats.
Actually, the audience was an even mix of men and women. An usher stood watch in a corner of the balcony, occasionally telling viewers not to sit in the aisles, but also watching to make sure no one got too "excited." A few times he ran over and a shined a light on people for reasons I don't really want to know about. He definitely kept a close eye on one couple that were sharing a seat.
The shorts themselves are mostly humorous. A film parodying Mad Men features a dead-on intro of a black silhouette tumbling from the Space Needle. Drained Balls involved a couple going at it on top of Robocop pinball machine. There's also The Coffee Boy, a send-up of porn cliches that also mocked Portland stereotypes. In this one, a delivery boy is seduced by a hipster girl in a studio apartment over near NW 23rd. In the middle of everything, she tears open a bag of ground coffee and flings it around the room. Another crowd favorite, The Nun and the Bum, involves a sister who takes who love for Jesus far past the point of piousness. And I should also mention "The Hotel Uranus," a Claymation film clogged with Play-Dough aliens merrily enjoying an orgy on an otherwise dull interstellar Saturday night.
Other selections fall flat. A short featuring a satanic baby is irritating and shocking for the sake of being shocking. "Attack of the Triple Ds" is incomprehensible and, worse yet, features 3-D that doesn't actually work. The festival's second short contains enough misogyny to fuel a entire Womens Studies thesis.
My favorite HUMP! short was the bittersweet "Hi, I'm Pon." It consisted of a series of snapshots set to an awesome, slow-build electronic soundtrack. What starts out as a series of sickly-sweet text messages and an ensuing Hallmark-esque relationship mutates into a tale of well-justified revenge after the protagonist discovers a lewd message on her boyfriend's phone. The last shot is perfect. Since you'll likely never get a chance to see this, I'll reveal it here. "Where's the cord for your digital camera?" "Why?" "Oh, there's some pictures I'd like to get off it."
I can see why tickets for the festival sold out quickly. Here's hoping next year's edition adds a few more screenings.
Friday, November 05, 2010
A week embedded in the trenches of Oregon politics
Measure 74 failed (WTF, people?) but Johnny K, AKA "The Kitz," AKA Johnny Bluejeans, AKA the Next Governor of Oregon made it back into office by the skin of his teeth over "The Man Who Once Set the NBA Record for the Most Missed Shots During One Consecutive Trip to the Foul Line." A former classmate of mine at Wilson High School, Will Rasmussen, lost his bid to snag a seat in the Oregon Legislature to a woman who calls herself "Hot Coupon Mama" on Twitter. And the Republicans snagged the House but the forces of hope/goodness/golden light continue to march onward.
All in all, things could worse right now.
It's been an interesting week over here. I spent Election Night embedded with the Oregon Democrats over at the Hilton. I met Steve Novick, an impossibly friendly guy who radiates good will out of every pore. He came over to look at my laptop for an update on the governors race before two gorgeous women pulled him aside to chat. Bill Bradbury spent the evening zooming through the crowd on a Segway.
Among the evening's highlights: Kitzhaber marching into the ballroom for an enthusiastic speech. "I'm in the same spot Senator Merkley was at this hour back in 2008," he said. At that time, he was down by 2,000 votes or more to Chris Dudley. Sure enough, the turnout in Multnomah County put him over the edge, leaving Dudley to conceded and chug margaritas out at El Ranchito out in Lake Oswego 20 hours later.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to briefly meet Portland mayor Sam Adams. While I have my problems with his behavior and many of his proposals, there's no denying that the guy has "presence." He confidently marched into the office where I'm interning this term like a lion. "Hi, I'm Sam," he said with a voice that oozed pure confidence as he reached across my desk to shake my hand. He was traveling with an entourage of 20-somethings and had a grip that could bend steel.
Now I'm sitting over at the Fehrenbacher Hof coffee house where former mayor Bud Clark is outside raking leaves on another golden autumn morning here in the City of Roses. He and his family own three businesses in the Goose Hollow neighborhood. He tossed a big smile my way as he lifted up a garbage can full of leaves. The man's damn near 80 years old. I nodded politely back, wishing I'd had the guts to talk to him. Inside, I chatted with one of the baristas about him while she wiped up a hazelnut mocha. "Yeah, he comes by all the time to tidy up," she said. "He's so adorable."
On my way to class, I chatted with Mr. Clark for a bit about the coffeehouse and the failing newspaper industry, strangely enough. He was sitting at a table outside enjoying the sun with a pint of brew.
I feel like I've been living in the Portland-equivalent of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles since Tuesday. Here's hoping I encounter the ghost of Tom McCall next.
Elections 2010: an infographic
A few colleagues of mine over at JESS3, a creative interactive agency based in DC, collaborated with Yahoo News! to come up with a fairly nifty "infographic" for the midterm elections. They received something like 8 million responses to various political questions. The results of their study provide an interesting point of reference to what actually happened on Tuesday night. Those they queried were all big fans of California's Prop 19, were pessimistic that Harry Reid could hang on to his post in Nevada and, strangely enough, really liked Arizona's immigration laws.
Here's a link to the graphic. Keep up the great work, guys.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Election night in the Oregon Dem's stronghold
I'm currently stationed three floors below street level in a large ballroom in the belly of the downtown Portland Hilton. When I first got here, the mood was anxious. Now, after early results showed Kitzhaber slamming Dudley at the polls, everybody's joyous and slamming back beers. Poor Dudley. At least he still holds the NBA record for the most missed free throws during a single trip to the foul line.
But KGW's results claim they're neck and neck with Dudley in the lead. Who to believe?
I'll be tweeting throughout the evening down here as people continue to trip over my feet and bump into my laptop. Feel free to follow all of that over at...
Fingers crossed for the Dems tonight....
Monday, November 01, 2010
Attack of the Quack
When you go after a beloved NCAA institution in Oregon, well, batten down the hatches. I learned this lesson the hard way a fortnight back when I dared sling some internet mud at the Oregon Ducks. I've been writing this blog since 2003 and never before have so many people been angry about something that I've posted here.
Nine readers (NINE!), on the blog's feedback forum and on Twitter, wrote in to, more or less, tell me I was being an idiot. A good ol' fashioned troll-fest ensued for a few days. I'd like to think that we all came out the experience a little wiser and a little more tolerant but, eh, who am I fooling? Ok, let me rephrase this. I'd like to think that everyone had a good time bickering over what is, at the end of the day, a silly, little game.
A silly little game that people in this state take waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too seriously. I was dubbed a douche, a dick, a hater and worse. Even the three students behind the "I Love My Ducks" campaign chimed in to run circles around me in a Twitter flame war. That was the most humiliating part of this experience: the trio that penned "Return of the Quack" schooled me on a level worthy of Wesley vs. Vizzini in The Princess Bride. Thank God the internet isn't capable of transmitting iocane powder.
Worse yet, they're probably too young to understand this reference. $%@#!@! kids.
Despite it all, I spent the following weekend in Eugene, a strange, magical place where cartoon Ducks are worshiped like the gods of olde and golden O's cover every available surface. Take a stroll through Rennie's Landing, a bar across the street from the University of Oregon campus, and you'll discover the O-logo plastered across the floors in a patterned carpet.
A friend, currently studying at U of O for a degree in Computer Science, would not shut up about my terrible, no good, inconceivable actions. And then he downed a can of Four Loko, turned into the Hulk and, well, you probably saw the footage on CNN the next day. The National Guard is still looking for survivors in the West Campus neighborhood.
Americans? Taking sports too seriously? No way! Get out!
While my nagging conscience won't allow me to be a Ducks fan any longer, at least I'm not alone. The Ducks are quickly becoming the bullies of the Pac-10- the Evil Empire of the NCAA. They've got plenty of filthy lucre at their disposal, top talent, a thuggish reputation, an indifferent school administration willing to let them run rampant and an entire city with nothing better to do between the months of September and December but worry about every nuance of the local university's football program.
Myself, I think I'll stick with the NBA. Where nothing bad ever happens. Ever.