aggienaut: (No Rioting)

   I woke up Friday morning thinking I was leaving that day for the Congo. Much to my surprise, as soon as I had checked my email i discovered I was in fact going to Kyrgyzstan! And not until a day later (ie today).

   Congo has been quite the odyssey. I first got pitched the project last year but my schedule was full. I forwarded it on to some colleagues all of whom said no, Congo seemed far too unsafe. (The daily security update notes civil unrest in DRC just about every single day)

   This year someone mentioned Congo was still out there so I contacted the recruiter and they jumped on me with almost alarming eagerness. It seems in the last year they had not been able to find anyone crazy enough to travel into the interior of the Democratic Republic of Congo to teach beekeeping.

   As it happens its actually hard to get into Congo on a bureaucratic level -- it takes a really long time to get a visa, with, for example, among other things, an invitation letter from the local host in the field having to be notorized by the local mayor and stamped by the Congolese Department of Foreign Affairs. And the Congolese embassy griped that it was stamped rather than signed and that then the dates were wrong. And the introduction letter from the Organization was originally addressed to the Washington DC embassy and had to be reissued with a changed "to" line for the embassy in London. So the project was at one point on the books for June but kept getting pushed back as the visa proved longer and longer to get.

   When they asked for another letter to be reissued two weeks ago we determined that there wasn't enough time to get the visa, asked for the passport back (it was in London and I'm in Melbourne, recall), and at that point I thought the project was cancelled. At that point I contacted the Kyrgyzstan people, with the same organization, and said maybe I could do the Kyrgyzstan project they had recently asked me about after all ... but the next day I found out that Congo was BACK on, they thought they could get the visa in Congo itself.

   This past week we had flight reservations on hold and everything was prepped to go awaiting the very 11th hour approval of the visa. As mentioned I was supposed to leave on Friday, and on Thursday it was still provisionally a go go. On Friday morning as my sleepy eyes focused on my email and unblurred enough to read I learned that the visa had indeed been issued ... FOR AN INCORRECT PASSPORT NUMBER! ...but fortunately in about the same breath the Organization said "but we've been prepping Kyrgyzstan as a back up are you ready to go there instead?" So it turns out I'm going to Kyrgyzstan!

   Apparently I'm going specifically to just beside the Jeti-Ögüz Gorge / rocks / hot spring.

Route shown from where last year's project was to where this year's project is, even though I won't be driving this route.

   Presently, because this and the immediately following project in Nicaragua are planned by two different Oorganizations, the proposed flights have me going from Kyrgyzstan to Melbourne before proceeding immediately to Nicaragua, a 61 hour transit, but I'm working with them to try to get them to work together to go from Kyrgyzstan immediately to Nicaragua, which would be more like thirty hours.

   Suffice to say I probably won't be online much for the next month. I'll come back with a full report and lots of photos though! And get a field update in if I can.

aggienaut: (Coat of Arms)

   ( Vaguely Part of and Indeed the Cause of the Trip that Starts Here )

   He's a former marine, veteran of two tours in Iraq ("yes mom, I've been to war... twice" whenever our mom nags him about something), now a police officer. She was an optometry student, graduating a week before the wedding. Despite being the youngest brother he's been the tallest since we've all been adults, indeed our heights are in reverse order. He's big and muscular and yet has a guileless face. He talks with relish about chasing bad guys but he also brings homeless people food and checks in on old ladies. She's blonde and blue eyed and very sweet. They met on.... tinder.
   It was quite efficient really, Eric went on tinder, got an app that liked everyone in the area to see who liked him back, and I think had homed in on Lindsay within weeks of getting on it. When she early on used a semi-colon correctly in a message we all declared she was The One.

   The wedding was to be on a golf course in Palos Verdes, the nice coastal bluffs by Los Angeles.
   "Not the Trump Golf Course right??"
   "No, no, that's a across the street."

   While some of my cousins on my mom's side have gotten married already, this was the first wedding among my brothers (I have one older, one younger, no sisters) and/or this generation on my dad's side. My dad's family mostly lives in upstate (Rochester) New York so I don't get to see my aunts/uncles/ cousins from that side nearly as much as I'd like, so it was fun to have them all in one place for one of the rare times in my life!

   My friend Tiffany came along as my date. We had been in the pre-law fraternity together at UC Davis and when I was the chief justice of the student government she was an associate justice. I didn't end up following a law path (I always say I decided I'd rather get stung in the face every day than work one more day in a law office and put my money where my mouth is) but she graduated law school just prior to my arrival in the states for this trip. Her life is like a Dickens novel: after her father unfortunately passed away he left her a Fishing Quota which I gather is worth a great deal of money but the quota holder must actually qualify as a commercial fisher(wo)man, and I think even be on the boat while the quota is caught, so throughout law school she has had to take summer breaks to go up to Alaska and work on a fishing boat. And she's not some grizzley tattooed and bearded fisherperson but quite sleight and non-confrontational.

Friday, June 2nd - Luau themed rehearsal dinner at the hotel most guests are staying at. Had to borrow a hawaiian shirt from my dad, I have none but he quite likes them and has an arsenal of them. Seeing relatives on my dad's side for in many cases the first time in years was much fun. Also gosh is Hawaiian kahlua pork good mmm.

Saturday, June 3rd - My parents living an hour away they had gotten an airbnb house in the vicinity for the weekend and a bunch of us were staying there. It was fun to wake up and have breakfast with many relatives about. My older brother Tobin showed up in the morning (it's the younger one who is getting married), I hadn't seen Tobin since I believe 2014. He is almost translucently pale and freckled with already-sparse red hair, and milky blue eyes that serpent-like stare at you flatly, soullessly, as they coldly look for an opportunity to say something mean.
   That morning I think the only thing he said to me was some rude leading question I don't recall, which I didn't dignify with a response, but later at the wedding he greeted me with"I see you're dressed as inappropriately as I am!" which is probably the nicest thing he's said to me in years.
   In my defense, I was tricked! Through no malice I'm sure in this case, but I had brought a suit, which, you know suits don't travel well and take up a fair bit of space, only to arrive and find out the dress code was "dressy casual" and the suit allegedly wouldn't be in order (and I wasn't a groomsman). People knew this and could have communicated it to me before I left Australia with a suit! And I had NOT brought "dressy casual" clothing so I did the best I could with a collered shirt, black pants (dickies), and grey converse I had bought for a friends wedding that had explicitly called for grey converse ... as it turns out I think I was the most underdressed person present as half the guys were wearing suits anyway. Gah.

   In the morning Tiffany and I poked around the coastal bluffs and some other touristy sites in the immediate vicinity (e.g. Sunken City), missed being able to tour a Liberty Ship there by five minutes, went down to where I know the two LAMI tallships moor up and chatted with the crew but didn't know anyone there -- they invited us to come on a sail that afternoon though, but of course we had a wedding to go to.

   As we all gathered at the wedding itself thick fog was billowing in, which I'm not quite sure is what they had intended but it was beautiful in its own way.
   Reception was fun. At one point it was just my mom and her brothers on the dance floor which was cute. Tiffany and I were at a table with my cousins from my dad's side, whom I've seen probably less than a half dozen times in my life so that was fun, the one I last remember as being about as tall as a table and now he's like 6'5". Apropos nothing Tobin drifted by and told them I fake my accent.

(Maternal grandfather, mom, my terribly dressed self, paternal grandfather, bride, groom / brother Eric, brother Tobin, dad)

Sunday, June 4th - Third morning in a row we had leftover kahlua pork from the reception dinner for breakfast and still not tired of it! We broke camp and most of us from the immediate family group were going to go to the local botanical garden, I was somehow volunteered to give Tobin and his girlfriend a ride but then when I went to follow the other cars he began squawking that no I was to give him a ride the other direction to some street corner where for reasons I cannot fathom he and his girlfriend were going to catch a lyft. Being as I was annoyed with this sudden interruption to my plans that was put to me without any politeness I pulled over and told to get out. And once he had indignantly done so, since the convoy of cars had now departed I had to spend several minutes googling directions instead of just following everyone else.

   And the botanical garden and then a mexican restaurant and then we all dispersed and I took Tiffy to the airport (she lives in Phoenix "it's a dry heat" Arizona). The next day or maybe the one after (who knows any more!) I flew back to Australia, took the train home, the end!!

   As it turns out, Tobin and his girlfriend are getting married this September. At first I declared that "I'm not coming back to the States twice in one year!!" but then mom gave me the mom look and I realized that yes, yes I am.
   Conveniently a project in Nicaragua happened along which fit in immediately prior to that so I can make a brief stop in the San Francisco area for the wedding on my way back to Australia.
   And then this project in Congo which was supposed to be a month ago got backed up until it was right up against the Nicaragua project, hence literally any day now I'll be off to either Congo or maybe Kyrgyzstan (the Organization is keeping KG as a back up plan), and might not return until after the wedding in a month.

aggienaut: (Zia's Sailor Kris)
   ( Beginning of This Adventure )

Tuesday, May 30th, Charleston, Oregon -The magical power of deep paranoia woke me up. Which is to say I woke up and looked at the time every ten minutes till 6:40, and then every two minutes until it was finally 6:50. Since I was sleeping in the crypt-like darkness of a ship's forecastle, a dozen sailors crammed in a space the size of a walk-in closet, I had a terror of my alarm going off.
   Despite my great efforts to get up without using the alarm, to my great horror, I apparently forgot to actually disable it and while I was getting dressed it started to go off at 7:00 and I leapt through the darkness like a blind cat to shut it off as fast as possible.
   Said goodbye to my dear friend Kori, who was of course asnooze and barely woke up enough to mumble goodbye. I covered her cheek in kisses until she chuckled sleepily and told her I'd swing by on my way back in the afternoon for a proper goodbye.

   And then up the ladder, pushing open the heavy wooden hatch and wiggling out with my backpack. The couple who was giving me a ride was there waiting in the fresh morning air. Surrounding us was a marina full of fishing boats and a thickly forested shore. We hopped precariously over the side to the dock -- the gangplank wasn't rigged, tossing our bags to eachother over the chasm. And then we were up the gently swaying floating dock, passing, as I mentioned, a salty former captain of mine coming the other way, who gave me an icy look and merest nod, as he secretly brandished his proverbial knife to figuratively slaughter the current captain of the ship and take over.
   Short taxi ride from Charleston to Coos Bay, past cute wooden houses and blackberry brambles. Rental car from there to Newport two hours north, along the coast but mostly you're not right on the coast so the sea isn't visible. Mainly thick pine forest and occasional bridges over rivers or big inlets from the sea, occasional small seaside towns. The couple was youngish and from Portland. The guy was an army reserve nurse, about to be sent to Korea to train people there, I think the woman may have been a teacher?

Newport - The couple dropped me off by my car, which to my relief had not been towed or ticketed, was left where I left it just beside where the boat had been docked. Had biscuits and gravy at the adorable little cafe that's right there. It's one of my favorite places, I guess I could literally say in the whole world. Just a really cute little cafe in what sort of looks like a little victorian house, right on the waterfront, with really good biscuits and gravy.

   Then I went to Englund Marine, a marine supply store, to get a ten pound spool of seine twine, a tarred twine I've been wishing I had for some time A sailor can fix absolutely anything with seine twine! It's the duct tape of the sea! Also from seine twine you make your Turks-head bracelet that is the secret sign of belonging to the ancient fellowship of sailors. I've had sailors randomly greet me in all sorts of places including once on a bus between Tanzania and Kenya due to the turks-head. It is said you earn the right to wear a turkshead by climbing to the very very very top of the mast, but I think it's also just as much also being able to make it yourself. And because you weave it directly on to your arm it cannot be removed unless cut off. I had removed mine a few years ago over fear of my hand swelled due to bee stings it could be very bad, but since my hand doesn't really swell at all any more I'd been wanting it back, and so as soon as I had a moment wove on the one in the previous link. I'll have to take a new picture tomorrow when the lighting is better, because now that it's not quite so brand new black it looks better I think.

   Does your occupation have any secret signs by which you can recognize a member out in the wilds?

   And then I retraced the trip back down to Coos Bay in my own car (which, I haven't mentioned in awhile, so I'll note I was borrowing me dad's prius). Unfortunately, when Ii got down there, the Lady Washington was out doing maneuvers so I couldn't go make proper goodbyes. But in Coos Bay town itself the other tallship, the caramel-and-blue hulled ketch Hawaiian Chieftain was moored up behind "The Casino." There was a little festival afoot, which is what had attracted the tallships, and also "the world's largest rubber duck" had been conjured up. It's about as tall as maybe a three story building, and the were in the midst of filling it with air. I took a picture but of course my phone later lost it.
   The Chieftain, as it turns out, was actually rafted to a barge thing that was moored to the pilings behind the Casino, but no gangway had been put in place yet and the gap was way too far to even contemplate jumping it. The crew was very busy up on deck doing various things and I happened to see the current captain, Gary, whom I had sailed under on a different vessel (the rather large brig Pilgrim). I called out to him and he came over onto the barge to greet me and express surprise that I was in the country. Two other sailors I've sailed with also came to greet me across the chasm, "Mr Sunshine," a thoroughly amiable older fellow (who's last name is Ray, which combined with his sunny disposition gets his name), and Shane who I think is maybe just a little younger than me and is also pretty nice (and at one time had an LJ even!).

Ugh look at that ten hours of driving and that's not counting the additional two hours of going between Coos Bay and Newport twice.

   From there I had to hoof it down to Davis/Sacramento in the middle of California, so I was off again! Would have greatly preferred to continue down the coast through the redwoods but was pressed for time at this point. Followed pretty much the route in the above map. I've described driving through Oregon a lot in this roadtrip so I won't spend much time on it suffice to say southern Oregon is mostly a land of thick forest and constant big hills / small mountains. Small highway is fun and swings through the landscape, then onto the Five which is more boring. Close to the border the landscape gets quite mountainous.
   Got off in a small town in the mountains near the border to get gas. Since this was still oregon an attendant came out to pump my gas, and she was so extremely cheerful about it and squeegied my windows as well, I felt I should tip her but wasn't sure how much was appropriate nor did I have anything smaller than a ten so I ended up not doing so, and she didn't seem the least bit phased by not getting a tip, cheerfully waving goodbye.
   And then once again a pulled an Australianism. The worst! Everyone's greatest fear when traveling between the countries. I stopped in the gas station driveway to look at my phone, then realized a car was behind me so quickly pulled onto the road and immediately onto the shoulder ... but what I didn't realize is doing this quick unthinking manouver I had pulled on to the LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD, the side one drives on in Australia. Fortunately I was off on the shoulder but it was disconcerting to find cars passing me close head on! Quickly got to the correct side when a signal gave me a window of no cars on the road.

   Passed Mt Shasta in the waning gloaming light of evening, proceeded along the boring straight road betewen Redding and Davis in the dark -- and I had finished my audiobook so I was bouncing between unsatisfactory radio stations (even with the XM radio the car had!).

   Stopped in at Davis, where I had gone to college, solely to get delicious pizza at Woodstocks pizza there. Verily it was extremely delicious, and packed with students and many drunken students were hanging around outside since the G Street pub is right there. I looked at them all and found it hard to believe I had once been one of them. It seems so long ago now.

   From there I proceeded to Sacramento, just 11 miles across a causeway over rice fields. My friend Gabi is now living there with her mom and stepfather in the suburbs. Gabi (half Uruguayan I believe? Slight of build. Also a former LJer), has taken the unusual step of getting herself artificially inseminated, purposefully not wanting to have some guy have any claim on her kid. It was 9 or 10 when I get there so pretty much we just said our hellos and she showed me to the couch I'd be sleeping on.

Wednesday, May 31st, Sacramento, California - In the morning I met Gabi's little one, still less than a year old. She took about thirty pictures of me awkwardly holding said child and somehow my phone decided not to delete them. Gabi's mom made us breakfast and she kept referring to being part of the resistance to Trump with as much enthusiasm and sincerity as if she was spending her days engaged in partisan warfare. "Yes, but there's still us in the resistance! ... we will resist! ...we're gaining momentum you know! ...he can't keep us down!"
   She believed the repubicans would never ever ever impeach Trump, somethnig I've heard a number of people say, but I think when the republican members of congress realize that no part of their conservative agenda is going to get through with his blinding incompetence AND the stink of corruption is like that of a rotting whale (have you ever smelled a rotting whale? it's pretty bad), they'll absolutely cut the anchor chain on him.

   From there I got back on the highway for the straight boring shot down the central valley on the five. Once again the dried grass was like the fuzz of a freshly shorn golden sheep. Once again I stopped at that roadtrip holy site, the In-N-Out in Kettleman City. Once again I got bogged down in absolutely shocking traffic in the LA area. And finally, as the sun was once again setting, arrived at my parents place in southern Orange County.

   Now hopefully I can knock out my younger brother's wedding in one more entry and be done with this last trip!

aggienaut: (No Rioting Inversion)

   The lights flicker, the concrete walls shudder, there's an emormous "ZORCH!!" noise. You wait several anxious moments and then the battleship gray metal door with a yellow radioactive symbol on it slides open and a bit of smoke comes out. [ profile] emo_snal emerges wearing what appears to be ... scuba gear.
   "I've done it! I've opened a portal to the Dreamwidth dimension! I've established a research mission over there, AND, combined [ profile] emosnail, [ profile] emo_snal and [ profile] emo_snl! I introduce you to: Operation Aggienaut!"

   Now, I'm not leaving you. I'll never leave you! ...or at least not without coming back here and laying it all out how we've discovered life really is well and truly completely better over there and urging everyone else to come too. I will not slink off into the night and leave you all behind!

   It's kind of novel, I used the style from [ profile] emosnail, which had been a lot more customized than this one ever was, so it's kind of fun to see my posts using that style again. Anyway, those of you who are primarily using DW now, please add Aggienaut there?
   Also so a lot of people crosspost from DW tp here, can I do it in the other order, from here to there?

Cato uses his paws to demonstrate the width of the dreams he is having

Meanwhile in Real Life
   Suddenly, I am probably going to Congo, the Democratic Republic Thereof, on Wednesday. Yes, it's Sunday now, yes I don't have flights yet, yes I don't have a visa yet ... I don't know, I think The Organization is crazy to pull this stuff but they do.

   Immediately after that, I'm going to Nicaragua on August 24th. The current hare-brained plan I'm very not pleased with has me deadheading back to Melbourne from Kinshasa only to turn around and head to Managua. For... reasons.

   Following Nicaragua I'll be in the San Francisco area for about 96 hours for my other brother's wedding. Then on Sept 11th I shall return to my dear little village on the southern edge of Australia ... until the end of September when I head to Istanbul for the world beekeeping conference.

   Sooo I'll be fairly busy in the next month or two! So today like the nerd / obsessive blogger that I am I'm going to try to finish blogging about that LAST trip!!

   Now I just need to find someone to pet-sit Theodora, my pet basil plant.

aggienaut: (Crotchety)

   Well that's depressing. So. After having admittedly rather neglected LJ for the last year or so, sometimes only posting once a month and not looking at my friends list much at all, I've been getting back in it (in my defense I was busy adjusting to life in a new country and all). And I've been aggressively trying to find currently active LJers to friend and follow and ... it's been depressing. I've found the overwhelming majority of accounts haven't been updated in years.

   It recently occured to me to look at the friends feed from my original LJ, [ profile] emosnail, which I used during Ye Livejournal Golden Days until about 2008 or so, and sure enough, the ONLY one of the 200+ once active friends of that account is... myself.

   Today it occured to me (for the first time in 15 years of LJing!) that there might be an LJ community dedicated to travel writing I should investigate and maybe meet some like-minded people there. ...of the two general communities I found, both had almost exclusively Russian language posts (even though the second one explicitly stated in its profile that it was English only and non-English posts would be deleted!), and by the tenth post down one was in 2015 or so.
   I found one travelogger whose writing I really really liked and I was very exciting ... and then I realized he left LJ in 2012 for wordpress, and that's when I started to feel like I really am among the last ones on an abandoned planet or something.

   Are there really better places for blogging with community interaction out there? Obviously anyone here is by definition also among the LJ die-hards. I see a lot of people posting to dreamwidth and crossposting to here, what's dreamwidth like?
   It has occurred to me the empirical way to investigate this would be to think of like 10 bloggers I quite liked from Ye Glory Days and figure out Where Are They Now, and thus I wouldn't be talking to fellow stubborn holdouts like myself. ::Sigh:: I don't know, I really like LJ, but maybe there IS something else out there and that's why people leave and never come back?

aggienaut: (dictator)

   Well it's been four years since I used the "politics" tag (last post: George W Bush Noodz!) and I even already made a post today, and normally don't post about information that's general knowledge probably known to all of you, but I feel quite compelled to make at least a quick post because I've just been dying to discuss the latest events and all one of the humans I actually interacted with in real life today here didn't have an opinion.

   So.. wow. I wake up and load the news on my phone as I always do and thought I read it wrong. Scarface-a-mucci canned already! Let us review. Last week he is appointed (who was his predecessor in that position? no one knows!) and fan favorite Spicy Salsa immediately resigned rather than work under him. Scarface then wasted no time lambasting everyone and acting more like Trump than Trump. Apparently his wife filed for divorce because she was so disgusted with his powergrab, AND he missed the birth of his son. Meanwhile he was shitting all over the one guy connecting this crazy White House and the Republican mainstream, Rience Probot (which is totally a goblin name if I ever heard one). Finally he gets his wish and the axe falls on Goblin-name ... only to be replaced by General Ned Kelly (Sorry that's an Australia joke, some other Kelly then) who within an hour throws Scarface-moochy out the provberbial window! (I say proverbial but I definitely picture in my mind the general literally picking up the guy bodily and throwing him screaming out of an upper window) This is just like some Greek tragedy where the protagonist through blind greed and hubris ruins his own life!!

   As one of my friends commented, "at least he contributed something: now Brannon is indelibly linked to self-fellatio."

   And also in dramatic political news, how about Sen McCain hurrying to the Capitol last week immediately after brain surgery, everyone thinking he was in such a hurry to help repeal Obamacare what with voting to bring the matter to a vote, and then casts the tie breaking vote to sink the repeal (credit duly given to the other two Republican senators who voted against it, but man the drama of the way McCain rushed back).

   In conclusion, politics sure have been exciting lately. It's now bedtime here in Australia and I can't wait to wake up to find out what happens next! And I don't even need HBO for this!

aggienaut: (Numbat)

   ( Beginning of this adventure )

Monday, May 29th - "Well, are you coming or not?" asked Kori, via facebook messenger that morning, "because I have not make the watch bills and need to know whether or not to put you on them,"
   "I really don't know how I'm going to manage it but I r eally want to, I'm trying desperately to figure something out but I haven't yet," I respond.
   "Okay well I'm making the watch bill and leaving you off." I'm sitting in my car in a gas station outside of Olympia, haven just driven down from Bellingham.
   I'm aiming to catch the tallship Lady Washington (of which Koriander is the first mate) in the small seaside town of Newport, Oregon, and sail as crew to Coos Bay, almost exactly 100 miles (98.3) south. The problem is I have to leave my car at one end, say the start, and then get back there. I thought it would be a simple matter, like there'd be an hourly bus running up and down the coast highway, right? Like a civilized place? No, there's a twice daily bus out of Coos Bay that would take me way inland to Eugene or Corvallis and I'd have to wait hours for a bus going to Newport. Google public transit routing puts the trip at like 26 hours! Renting a car looked to cost over $200 since I'd be only taking it one way. This was proving ridiculously difficult. I posted on facebook for advice from my Oregon based friends, and got back on the highway while racking my brain over the problem.

   It had been an easy two hour or so drive south from Bellingham along the big multi lane highway The Five, with no traffic congestion since it was still the middle of the three day weekend. The highway flies through Seattle raised up so high you feel like you're flying right over it and have a good view of the city as it goes by. I don't remember noticing Tacoma which comes just south, and Olympia is hidden by trees, it's odd you notice there's suddenly lots of exits and signs about the city but as you pass through Olympia, the state capitol, you might as well be in a forest as far as you can tell.
   To quote myself about Olympia, when we were there on the boat:
   Very ironically this is the first place we've been that doesn't have shore water or power or facilities of any kind for us. We had these things in tiny backwaters like Garibaldi and Sequim but here in the state capitol we've got nothing but the power we generate ourselves, the water we brought aboard in Gig Harbour, and we'll have to go find a pumpout dock to get rid of our crap.
   Olympia is a weird place. It has one street, 4th Avenue, that has a lot of bars and other cool stuff, but surrounding that is just muffler shops and other boring crap. All the locals look like cracked out vagrant-punks. In most towns we stand out for looking dishevelled -- in this town we all look positively clean and straight-laced compared to the locals.

Mt St Helens and Mt Rainier as seen from a plane on an earlier trip

   From Olympia it's pretty much a straight shot down the Five to Portland ("PDX"), and much the same as I described the Five south of PDX -- agricultural land with a five o clock shadow of trees growing anywhere anyone has neglected to keep them down, mountains in the distance. I want to say you can see Mt St Helens from the freeway but I might be transposing the good views of it when flying over this same airspace to SEA-TAC airport. Google tells me you can see it on clear days from the freeway anyway.
   There was a route to Newport that departed the five before PDX and runs down the coast, which I would have preferred, but I still didn't know if I'd be headed to Newport or catching a bus from Coos Bay or somewhere in between or maybe the whole thing would be impractical so I continued on down the five. Checking facebook just before entering PDX to see if anyone had any good advise yet (which I sweeearr I pulled over to do ::looks around nervously::) a friend I'd forgotten was in Portland had left a comment and as lunch was approaching I messaged her asking if she wanted to get together for lunch. She was down and I left it up to her to suggest a place, and she suggested one of the McMenamens -- McMenamen is a, I guess you could call it a chain but each location is super unique, they buy old sort of landmark buildings and turn them into restaurant/bar places. I was so glad she had suggested it because going to a McMenamens was definitely on my list but it hadn't occured to me this day because I had so much else on my mind.
   We were headed to the one called Broadway Pub. For some reason my GPS took me on an extremely roundabout way to get there and I only bothered to look at the big picture when it had already taken me on a wild goose chase. Anyway my friend, Hollie is ALSO from ye glory days of Model UN and PAXMUN and I don't think I've seen her literally since the last time I saw her at a conference. She now has a kid who I think is like 8 or 9 maybe? He came with her to lunch but shyly didn't say much. She is also married to a Brazilian airline pilot. Hollie has been working as a "promotional model" most of the time since MUN I believe.
   ***Plz allow me to insert here an incident I forgot to relate from up in Bellingham -- while looking at the menu I pulled another totl Australianism. In Australia "entrees" on the menu are appetizers, which I have to concede makes more sense. So I was looking at the menu and skipped over the entrees to look for "mains" and found very few (maybe just the specials), and was just starting to comment on the lack of selection of mains when it dawned on me.
   I had delicious cajun tater tots (I've been missing the McMenamen's tater tots!) and [? a burger?] (it's definitely clear to me while writing this that the terminal amount of time has passed since these events where I've practically forgotten everything that's not written down), and a pint of their excellent Tatonka Stout.

   After lunch it was time to get down to brass tacks and decide what I was doing, as I'd have to choose which road to go on right after Portland. I still had zero idea how I'd get back to my car or from the one city to the other. It seemed actually quite impossible.


   So naturally, I decided I'd go for it. I would leave my car in Newport and despite the apparent impossibility of getting back there from Coos Bay, I would just ... deal with that when I get there.

   Google maps tells us there's two routes from PDX to Newport, one along the Five most of the way and one that gets off the Five almost immediately. You can take a guess which one I took. It's an enjoyable drive through over hill and vale and through tiny farming communities and small towns. I had made this very drive one morning in January 2012 when I had a job interview with Rogue Brewery, first at their headquarters in Portland and then the next morning at their main facility in Newport, so the drive reminded me of that.
   Anyway it's about two and a half hours from Portland to Newport and despite being on the more scenic road for some reason I started feeling very sleepy and had to stop at one point and jog back and forth a bit to wake myself up. Also as I approached the coast a light drizzle began. The weather most of the trip had been amazingly excellent but the coast is famous for dreary weather. The last bit of the drive was through cute seaside towns.

[This would be the perfect place for the picture I definitely took of the boat at the dock there with with Newport bridge behind it, but that picture has also been lost]

   Finally arrived in Newport and the boat was right where I expected to find it. In fact, it was right where I had first joined the Hawaiian Chieftain to begin my seven month stint aboard. Swung aboard and found Kori in the aft cabin. There were several people in the crowded little space, including Daisy, who had been aboard the Chieftain when I first came aboard here, so we were excited to see eachother. I forget if there was someone else who knew me, but after at least Kori and Daisy (both shortish Hawaiian girls as it happens) were like "KRIS!!!" and hugged me. Captain Lazarus, whom I'm not sure I'd met before, did the same thing just to be silly.

   As this entry is once again long enough, and I feel descriptions of the boat and crew should belong to the same entry as the subsequent sail, I'll end this one here, where I have just come aboard in the gathering darkness of this memorable little town.

aggienaut: (Numbat)

   ( Beginning of this Adventure )

Friday, May 26th - Up in the back of town, where the houses are big and old and built on hills, near a cemetary, I park by what my GPS indicates is my friend Maureen's house. And lo, verily, there she is.
   Maureen, AKA Reen, has auburn hair, blue eyes that sparkle with delight and/or mischief, and a big delightful smile, and an arsenal of expressions that seem vaguely a satire of 50s culture. As I mentioned, I met her the day I got off the boat, and I think I had probably last seen her in Sacramento in 2013 or 14, whereupon we had briefly caught up for coffee. She now works as a lemur at a funeral home in Bellingham, and as such, having just come from work, she was wearing a black or dark blue dress with what we decided to call "a serenity stripe" down each side (apparently it's difficult finding the appropriately somber but not TOO somber clothing for her job).
   "Wait, what!," you might be saying, "lemur?!" Picturing a furry thing with saucer eyes and a barber-pole tail. But you see Lemures in Roman mythology are the "spirits of the restless dead," and since one of her duties is responding at all hours to go retrieve just-deceased persons and "take them into our care" it seemed appropriate and a lot more adorable than calling her a grim reaper. Also there was at one time a lemur snapchat filter which she used which was the best thing ever and I really hope they bring it back.
   She lives in a big decaying old house (I tried to lean again a column by the doorway and realized it wouldn't hold my weight, and in fact the portion of the porch by the door that overhung the hillside didn't quite look safe at all) up in the hills above the center of town, and just around the corner from the cemetary and funeral home where she works. We had to tiptoe through the common areas of her house lest the vengeful spirits housemates be disturbed, and despite our best efforts I believe one of them later griped.

   We immediately proceeded downtown, got an outdoor table at a little restaurant on State Street. Here I pulled another really glaring Australianism. In Australia "entrees" are appetizers (which I've gotta give it to them on this one that does fit the meaning of the word better), and so I was looking at the menu assuming everything under the entree heading was an appetizer and tehre wasn't much left that otherwise looked like a main (maybe some things under "specials?"), and I was just saying "well I don't mean to be a weirdo and order an entree for my main but... [pause in which Reen looks at me a little perplexed] OH MY GOD THEY ARE MAINS"
   Alas I forget what I had but it was quite good. Then we strolled about town a bit. It was fun because I particularly fondly remember Bellingham from when I came here aboard the Chieftain. The marina had been haunted by what we called "demon birds" due to their unearthly screech, next to a park with a memorial to lost fishermen/sailors, which Reen remarked had been sponsored by her employer!
I was in Bellingham on my birthday in 2010 (28th?), and it was quite like that movie Memento -- One minute it was only halfway through the evening, I was getting another drink in a bar on State Street, and then suddenly it was morning and I was in my bunk on the boat, in the blink of an eye, as if I'd been teleported! The rest of the missing evening slowly came back throughout the day as I interrogated people.
   And now seven years later here I was again walking these same streets! Alas we were unable to work the dumpling (perogi) restaurant into the weekend, but that evening we did hit up a MEAD BAR (!!!). They had several meads on tap as well as some weird jazzy-folksy-hippie music act on and lots of people of the grey haired elder-hippie variety, were swaying to and fro and for some reason knew when the right time to clap was even though there didn't seem to be any corresponding stop, pause or crescendo in the music.

File footage of Reen doing a numbat impression

Saturday, May 27th - This day began with this utter deliciousness from local place the Mount Bakery (a nearby snow capped mountain looming up over the city at a distance is Mt Baker). The menu had numerous delicious looking options, but I had the "blackwood benny" (smoked bacon and black pepper among other things) and Reen had the biscuits and gravy. Back in 2010 I visited a very similar restaurant called "Bayou on the Bay," which ALSO had delicious eggs benedicts and omelettes and things. Clearly this is a very good city.
   Other activities in around Bellingham which may or may not have been Saturday or Sunday including walking about a nice forested park just above down (Whatcome Falls), through which a river ran in a deep gorge. People were bathing under a waterfall and then a lot of swimmers were gathered in a swimming hole. I got some pictures I thought were pretty nice but my phone immediately deleted them (and yeah-no I do have the google photos auto backup setup but it deleted them before that could even happen).
   Just south of Bellingham is a state park (Laramie) of trails through a forested bit of the coast, which was nice but had a HECK of a lot of people out enjoying the summer afternoon. Also in the category or Just South of Bellingham is a town called Fairhaven, which when I was on the boat I was completely unaware of since again when boat-bound land distances are insurmountable. Fairhaven was a lot like Bellingham but without stoned grunge-hippies hanging about everywhere. While poking around Fairhaven we found the schooner Zodiac at her moorings, which was yet another reminder of my sailing days since we used to encounter the Zodiac in all sorts of obscure parts of the Puget sound, for example looming suddenly out of the morning fog off San Juan island like some kind of predatory privateer.
   Both Saturday and Sunday we stopped at a dogpark/bar in the afternoon to pet the doggies whilst having a beer or two.
   Saturday we had mexican at a place in Fairhaven. Normally I hold myself to vows to have no Mexican food north of San Francisco, but compared to "mexican food" in Australia I felt anything in America would be thoroughly satisfactory.

Schooner Zodiac in Bellingham Bay, 2010

Sunday, May 28th - Reen dragged me into the underworld along to her work. I saw dead people! Fortunately no one made me pet them, and there wasn't any gross embalming stuff going on. One of the dead people was wearing their nice suit and pink striped socks.

   Then we, with Reen's coworker / best friend Alexandrina and her husband ?? went to poke around Fairhaven again -- this time there was a sort of festival on -- Ski to Sea, some kind of race? ("A 2017 Ski to Sea team consists of eight racers competing in seven different sports: Cross Country Ski, Downhill Ski/Snowboard, Running, Road Bike, Canoe (2 paddlers), Cyclocross Bike, and Sea Kayak.") so there was a festive atmosphere about. We ate at an Americana themed restaurant (burgers of course) in Fairhaven that was also totally delicious.

   I'm sure I'm forgetting things we did, but long story short Bellingham is a delightful place with nice long summer days, delicious food, heaps of delicious beer (there's like at least three little craft breweries in town), and lots of beautiful forest areas to explore in the immediate vicinity.
   Monday may have been a holiday for most of America, (Memorial Day), but turns out people in the memorializing industry have to work that day! So Reen had to work and I had to rush down to catch the boat! Although at this point it was proving a serious problem that I'd be catching the boat in one small seaside town (Newport, Oregon), and riding it to another (Coos Bay, Oregon), and from there I'd need to get to my car but apparently there's NO bus service directly between neighboring seaside towns on the Oregon coast and I'd have to take a bus way inland to Eugene and back out again and it would take something impractical like 24 hours of bus limbo hell. Obviously this is a subject for another entry but I'm mentioning it now to leave it hanging in suspense because at this point I myself was quite in suspense about how this could be done if at all.

   And so, Monday morning, I bid adieu to lovely Bellingham and dear Reen my favorite lemur and began the journey south.

aggienaut: (Numbat)
   ( Beginning of this Adventure )

Friday, May 26th - This morning my plans experienced a last minute change. My dear friend Koriander was finishing a short course in the nearby town of Edmonds at 11 and proceeding immediately south to go get back aboard the Lady Washington, and I was going to catch up with her there on Monday, but since I was literally going to be passing right by Edmonds right when she was getting out we made plans to at least briefly meet up.

   Edmonds turned out to be about half an hour from my friend Mike's place, where I woke up. The entire trip was through urbanized space on raised multi-lane freeways full of morning traffic. I had been in Edmonds with the boat in 2010, and I recall people asking "so how do you liked Seattle??" and thinking "we're not IN Seattle, weirdo" ... it IS practically in Seattle if you have a car, but when we were boat bound with only our two feet for shore transportation Seattle may as well have been on another continent.
   I rather fondly remember Edmonds from my earlier visit. It has a small-towny little downtown of the seaside-tourist-destination variety, surrounded closely by sleepy suburbs. Perusing my 2010 entries I said of it "[it] isn't a miserable soulless place like Everett" (next town up the coast and previous place we'd been on that journey), and there was one bar we really liked of which I wrote "...and the bartenders consist of the owner, his wife, and his son. The bartender informed us 'treat this place like your livingroom and we'll treat you like family,' something that might seem like trite crap at a corporate chain but it feels pretty accurate here." I would have liked to pop into that bar this time but I couldn't remember and hadn't recorded the name, nor could I remember quite specifically where it was. Notable events of our stay here in 2010 were the boat's birthday, a zombie attack, waking up in the middle of the night and bolting out of my bunk as a crewmember screamed for help only to find he was having a nightmare, and one of our returns to dock, which required coming in in reverse was accompanied by the distance being called by crewmember Noah standing on the aft rail: "30 feet, 25 feet, 20 feet, 15, 14, ... 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 GET DOWN GET DOWN ::CRACK!!::" as we all dove for cover as the mizzen boom which overhangs the back shattered against some structure behind us.
   It was a beautiful sunny summer morning and as I came into the suburban streets of Edmonds the snow capped Olympic Mountains stood out clearly across the sound. Parked downtown around 10:50 and then googled "maritime training Edmonds" to try to figure out where Kori might be, and when Compass Courses, with whom she'd taken some of her other maritime license related classes (she has the 100 Ton Master's License! She's no longer merely "Sailor Cilantro," she's "Captain Koriander!") I knew it was the place so I started to walk that way. As I walked by a shop downtown a really cool map caught my eye that looked like a marine navigation chart very elegantly all decorated up (the above picture of the map portion showing Seattle and Edmonds is from the very map), but I had to keep steaming along to meet Kori.

I swear I parked and walked into the middle f the street to take this, really

   Kori claaims we haven't seen eachother in three years, I find that hard to believe but have been unable to remember a meeting that would contradict that timeline. She is Hawaiian, shortish, with large brown eyes. I was waiting for her in front of the place but she snuck out the back and caught me by surprise with a flanking maneuver. Greatbighugs ensued. She really was in quite a hurry so we hopped in her car, the SS Minnow, and proceeded to a Hawaiian fish/sushi restaurant nearby where she was gonna get lunch for herself and her grandparents whom she'd be immediately going to see. I really don't like fish and was sure there'd be something non-fish there despite her doubts ... yeah no she was right, there was no non-fish option so I decided just to eat later. The offerings looked very good though if one is into fish! So if you're ever in Edmonds looking for good fish... I can't for the life a me remember the name of this place and even googling and looking at maps isn't helping.

   All too soon she had to run, but we had plans for me to join her on the boat on Monday so hopefully it wouldn't be long. I then went back to the store where I'd seen that super keen map, and I purchased the heck out of it! It now graces my wall here and I am endlessly pleased with this reminder of all the beautiful places in the Puget Sound area that I've sailed to.

Picture from 2010, would have liked to see this statue again

   I had wanted to drive down to the marina to see the exact area I'd lived for a week or so aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain but for some reason there was insane traffic down there and I saw that it looked like if I went all the way to the marina it would probably take me half an hour to slog back out in the line of cars barely inching out of the marina dead end for whatever reason. So instead I got back on the freeway to slog through freeway traffic that was even at noon pretty congested. Headed north just a little bit, I think I was in Lynnwood which is also on the above map portion, when I saw the answer to my lunchtime stomach growling prayers ... FIVE GUYS burgers!
   People from the northwest are often heard to utter such blasphemy as that Five Guys is as good as, or ::gasp:: "better" ::crosses self in the manner of the In-N-Out arrow:: than In-N-Out. I will grant that Five Guys is extremely good, but my burger, fries (an obscene amount thereof!) and drink I think ran me like $18, whereas the same at In-N-Out would be like 5 bucks. So this is like comparing apples with ... much more expensive apples that are almost as good. That's almost as expensive as a burger in Australia! (But infinitely better than any burger I've ever had in Aus).

   Then I finally got some distance under the wheels. Google maps is now telling me the total distance of this day's routing should be two hours of driving but the freeway traffic was pretty bad until I was probably halfway to Bellingham. It was the Friday before a three day weekend so I suspect maybe a whole lot of people were trying to make an early escape and headed north to Canada.
   Anyway I zipped up about 2/3rds of the distance to Bellingham, to the Skagit River Brewery in a little inland town once I had finally broken out of the extended urban sprawl of the Seattle area. It was mid afternoon by now, still a nice sunny summer day, and I had a few hours to kill until Maureen got off work, so I settled down on their nice outdoor seating area and had a beer or two. The food looked pretty good and I was almost regretting I was full of Five Guys, though 5G isn't something to terribly regret (except maybe in the wallet!). Now I feel my journalism is really falling short here because surely I owe you a detailed beer review but I can't find any indication of what specifically I had other than that it was an imperial stout that was either made with maple syrup or simply alleged to have "hints of maple" in the taste. Clearly I need to go back.

   And then it was time to continue on up to Bellingham! Skagit River Brewery is just half an hour from Bellingham and this time there wasn't traffic. Before I knew it I was no longer in open flatlands but surrounded by forests and hills, and after a turn or two I was coming around the back of Bellingham, or so it rather felt. Past a cemetary and one more turn into a neighborhood to Maureen's place and ::fades to black:: TO BE CONTINUED! Somehow just getting there took an entry length of writing and Bellingham is so awesome it's not gonna be any shorter.

The brig Lady Washington comes in to Edmonds marina, 2010

aggienaut: (no rioting redux)

   If I may be so bold, I'd like to combine two fairly unrelated things in this entry. First I just wanted to post the pictures above and below of Cato posing particularly dramatically. And as long as I'm posting I've been wanting to rant a little bit about the Viking television series so I'm going to go ahead and do that. (Though I'll point out that viking cats are definitely a thing, we can call Cato "Bjornekatt Loðstjärt."(Bear-cat shaggy-butt))

   Now if I have a bunch of criticisms of the Vikings show it's not because I loathe and despise it but because vikings are near and dear to my heart and the show is almost excellent, except for a few things that really grate upon me, which is why I need to get it off my chest.
   I don't intend to include any spoilers in here except for maybe general comments on the personalities of main characters.

   (1) First of all, worst of all, that friggen "seer" is totally fantasy cliche and stolen whole cloth from the movie 300. I like that supernatural things occasionally happen, but I prefer it when they're portrayed kind of ambiguously like it could have just been a coincidence or someone's imagination, but this permanent character who doesn't look like a realistic normal human, doesn't act like one, and I cant' forget that I saw him looking and acting the same way in 300 is just a huge affront to my willing suspension of disbelief and enjoyment of the film.
   (2) What's with the awful haircuts? I googled around about the historical accuracy of the series before writing this and found some stupid puff pieces about how "yes they did have hair braids like that!" ... conveniently ignoring that I'm prrrrretty sure no one could be bothered to painstakingly shave fashionable portions of their head with the tools at hand (which is to say knives and water that would have to be heated over a fire). I feel like in later seasons they toned this down but in the first season it looked like a bunch of bikers with too much time on their hands escaped from hair design school. Also, it's one thing to have it shaved clean but Ragnar's son Bjorne looks like he has his hair shaved evenly at like a no 4 setting on a clippers, which would also be very hard to maintain without, you know, a clippers.
   (3) The immortality of main characters. It's a classic failing of MOST series that eventually you come to realize none of the main characters will ever die. Without giving too much away, several times main characters appear to be killed in battle, shot up with arrows, hacked and then run over by horses, limp corpse carried away... then it turns out they're alive! And walking talking frolicking about in the next scene. Instead of being on the edge of my seat when it looks like a main characters is about to die in battle, as you'd think they'd want the audience to feel, I just roll my eyes and when sure enough it turns out they're actually alive I groan aloud -- not because I specifically want any of the characters in question to die so much as just, come on man.
   (4) the world revolves around them -- it's also a weakness in a series when you start to feel like there's no world outside what's presently on set, and that they're the most important people in the world. In particular, when the viking king comes and hangs out for most of a season or two and has no retainers, seemingly nothing better to do, it seemed pretty odd to me. Doesn't he have at least a town of his own, and I don't know, a best friend? He just floats around like the secondary character he is and it starts to feel like they haven't filled out the rest of the viking world at all.
   (5) I really think they should have cast said king as Ragnar instead of the guy they did. He actually does seem to have the force of presence expected. The guy playing Ragnar seems like he's trying to channel Johnny Depp but it doesn't work for him. He doesn't have a forceful presence, he has a weird retreating twitching not-making-eye-contact not making decisions presence that doesn't seem to me to fit the part.
   (6) Ragnar Lodbroke means "Ragnar shaggy pants," WHERE ARE HIS SHAGGY PANTS
   (7) The tattoos. Did you know, there IS one reference to vikings "being covered in green drawings," by the Arab diplomat Ibn Fadlan who encountered a group of Varangrians (that is to say Norsemen who had settled in what is now Russia) in Bulgaria. Being as this is the only reference in any record, it is far more likely they picked it up in Russia (there's Siberian tribes known to tattoo -- seriously check out these cool tattoos) than that somehow no one in Europe ever thought to mention it and no tattoo implements have survived among the many oddments that have (I call this occam's tattoo needle).
   (8) This doesn't really bother me like the other things, but while I'm mentioning things, despite the two human sacrifices in the series being portrayed as voluntary, and indeed the priests refusing to take a non-voluntary sacrifice, and there are historical references and evidence of sacrifices, there is no historical reference or evidence of a single voluntary sacrifice.
   (9) Cato reminds me that there's no cats. Hmm that's a good point there really aren't.

   But other than the above points I must say I do find it rather enjoyable. I do really appreciate that they make a lot of references to the sagas and historical events. Presently once a week my friend Billie and I get together and I bring a bottle of mead and we watch a few episodes.

aggienaut: (Numbat)
   ( Beginning of this Adventure )

Thursday, May 25th - Next stop on my agenda was to to see some old friends in Seattle. I'd meant to leave the Kettle Falls area earlier but like a river caught behind a glacial ice dam, we pooled in the Kettle Falls interpretive center too long, so it was around 1pm when I finally got on the road. Doug was concerned that some of the roads I intended to take might be snowed in, which was a novel thought, but we checked online and they were all open. I was also thrilled that this trip would require almost no retracing my steps or roads I'd ever been on before.

   The road took me down along the broad Columbia river, surrounded by pine forest and only occasional habitations. At one point I passed a ferry landing where a small ferry was loading cars, and at another there was a small townlet in a hairpin turn in the road that was gone in the blink of an eye (looking at the map that must be Hunters, population 306, "a focal point of the surrounding smaller communities" according to wikipedia). After about an hour of following the river I came to where the river Spokane joined the Columbia, and here, just over the bridge, I saw signs of Fort Spokane historical site. I pulled off here and drove into the parking area. The area was sort of a broad meadow overlooking the rivers, with a few restored wooden buildings. Other than the highway there was very little of the modern world in sight. I would dearly have liked to get out and look around but looking at the time I knew I had to keep moving if I was going to make dinner in Seattle with my friends. So I had to continue rushing down the river valley like a jökulhlaup.
   Shortly after leaving the fort the road turned west and no longer followed the river. The land opened up from hilly forests to broad fields of wheat and prairie. A few more small towns here with names like Wilbur (claim to fame: crop circles reported nearby) and Creston (claim to fame, last surviving member of Butch Cassidey's gang shot here in 1902) with giant grain silos towering over them. After about an hour of sailing along the quiet and straight highway through waves of grain, I came back to the bedammed river at Coulee City, and a very long dam was clearly visible above the town which I assumed was THE famous dam, but no I see "the" Coulee dam which had flooded so much upriver is actually located upriver a bit at the city of Grand Coulee, which I had bypassed (or rather it would have been out of my way). In actual fact I just realized looking at the map that this wasn't the Columbia river here at Coulee City at all but some other river, the Columbia splitting off above here. It's highly weird and unusual for a river to split in two directions going downstream!
   It turns out the gorge chewed through the landscape by the Missoula Floods in the Ice Age is not exactly the course of the Columbia River, and this seeming river valley south of the city of Grand Coulee is that ancient riverbed, the Grand Coulee itself. The Coulee riverbed was dry in modern times until the Grand Coulee dam was built, the one that flooded everything up river, and water is pumped from it through the rest of the Coulee riverbed to irrigate farms downriver. The more you know!

   All I knew at the time was that my GPS wanted me to take a road south here to connect to the boring looking interstate 90 running between Seattle and Spokane, and I wasn't having it. Despite my hurry, it didn't add to much time to stay on on the same two lane highway I'd been on (the 2) headed West into the mountains.
   Just across the Coulee I pulled into a turnout with a grand view into the "channeled scablands" of the Coulee valley, not that I was quite sure what I was looking at but it was nice. Through rising prairie farmland again for another half hour, then following a river south for a ten minutes which I didn't realize is the Columbia again (can't get away from this thing!), across a bridge and immediately into mountains! The road corkscrewed up a narrow valley beside a rushing mountain stream and eventually passed a faux bavarian alpine village and ski resorts. There was only a very light amount of snow at the level of the highway though.
   And then gradually descending the other side the mountains unwind and peter out and I found myself coming into the Seattle metropolitan area and big highways with rush-hour traffic! As it happens it wasn't actually that bad and my friend Mike ([ profile] xaositecte) lived on the East side of the city, from which I was approaching (for those who know the city, his address was in Kirkland, for those, like me, that don't, it's separated from downtown by a large lake)

   Mike I know from Model United Nations (MUN), (we figured out he was in my committee at a conference in Vegas circa 2003 where I was representing Libya (despite having a green mohawk at the time), and filled my speeches with fiery quotes from the Quran (which I had in hand as I was taking an Islamic Scriptures class). Mike previously lived in Portland (or rather the "Vancouver" thats just beside PDX), and I think last time I saw him was when I crashed at his place the night before first joining the tallship Lady Washington there in 2009. He is, I believe, some kind of (software?) engineer, and his wife/and/or/girlfriend is a teacher (I really should take notes I suppose, given my memory). He had an adorable dog that I feel like was a pit / corgi cross or something? Is that a thing?
   We had made dinner plans with another MUN friend, Sameer, nearby. Sameer and I were jointly in charge of the America Pacific (Ampac) conference in Southern California in 2007. I was the Secretary-General, which in most MUN organizations would be the highest position, but this organization, PAXMUN, had Governor-Generals whose duties were supposed to be more over-arching while the SG was supposed to be in charge of more of the details. As it happens, Sameer appeared to totally not remember that he had tried to fire me (but failed because he tried to do so by email during a PAXMUN conference I was present at, along with all the board, and he was not, so they were very easily persuaded that I shouldn't be fired). Despite that we got along alright with no hard feelings, after all this is MUN, intrigue is in our blood, and diplomacy is the name of the game.
   Shortly after our conference, a coup d'etat had taken place on the board, wherein a certain power-hungry member (whom I shall name because their perfidy should stick to them, it was Mary McKenzie of one of the San Diego universities) through maneuvering (Sameer finally filled me in on a number of the sordid details during dinner) managed to fire the chairman of the board and other key opponents, and then went about cleaning house and in a flood of blacklisting got rid of most staff associated with the old regime, including my humble self (Sameer survived another year just because Governor-Generals had multi year appointments), and... did something new and shiny rise from this dripping scoured desolation? No she managed to run PAXMUN right into the ground in a stunning nosedive that saw it completely cease to be an organization within two years. Its a real shame -- I probably would have ceased being involved anyway since I had just graduated college, but its a shame its gone because it ran most of the big conferences in the the Southwestern United States (Ampac in LA, Amwest in Vegas, Amsouth in New Orleans, and several smaller ones) and Mary destroyed it like a toddler smashing a toy just to see what'll happen.
   Anyway, Sameer, Mike and I had a grand old time reminiscing about the antedeluvian days of yore. Sameer had gone on to run a Seattle based conference that he's still involved in to this day.

   Mike had a guest room so I didn't even have to sleep on a couch AND, a true hero of the people, he made biscuits and gravy and bacon for breakfast (he seemed particularly outraged when I described the lack of real bacon in Australia and valiantly brought forth some very high quality delicious bacon). And then as he headed off to work in the bright morning light I was headed north to a land of beautiful seaside towns I had visited during my life as a sailor and... ex girlfriends ::dramatic fade::


aggienaut: (Numbat)
   ( Beginning of this Adventure )

Wednesday, May 24th - It's just about two hours from Spokane to my next destination, a tiny town called Marcus outside a small town called Kettle Falls north of Spokane. While the terrain south of Spokane on my approach had been rolling prairies, north of the city I was immediately in amongst narrow valleys of farmland separated by small forested mountains. This highway wasn't so big as to scare away the quaint red barns nestled into the bucolic landscape either.
   Passed through a few small country town blocks of Kettle Falls and then just out of town, surrounded by tall pine forest again, my GPS had me turn off onto the road for Marcus. Minutes later I found the road skirting what appeared to be a lake, and the lake appeared to be very low, which I thought was odd since the whole west coast has gotten record rain this year. And furthermore, it looked like there was the remnants of a road upon one of the barely exposed sandbars, which also intrigued me.
   As I'd find out later, the lake is actually the Columbia river (again), but it is dammed somewhere below here, and they have recently lowered the level quite a bit in anticipation of more snowmelt coming down the line from further up. And the roads? Apparently the town of Marcus had originally been where the lake is now, but when the river was dammed the whole town was moved, and you can still see some roads (as I did) and foundations when the water is really low.
   My friend Doug mentioned that Marcus was one of the first European towns in the area .. wikipedia doesn't mention that but it did have a role in a gold rush of the 1860s, since boat traffic couldn't pass the nearby Kettle Falls, Marcus became a staging area for boat traffic on the section upriver of the falls to the "Rapids of Death".
   And now, over a century and a half after this little town was founded ... it has a population of 183, no retail shopfronts, not even a post office. But it's ten minutes from the town of Kettle Falls so I think all business is there and Marcus is now just a few sleepy residential streets along the river/lake banks. Doug later told me there's a big apple cider festival every year in Marcus.
   The Canadian border is only 35 miles further up the river, but Doug told me he discovered the other day when he tried to take his wife to Canada that they wouldn't allow him in because he was arrested some 40 years ago for trespassing ("even though I had permission to be there!"). I'm similarly not legally allowed into Canada for stupid reasons. Eff Canada man.

   My friend Doug I met on my first project in Nigeria in 2012, where he was also doing a beekeeping project just like me with the same organization. In fact it was his mischievious influence that led to me talking to the princess. We kept in touch and in 2014 he joined me on a trip to East Africa to attend a beekeeping conference in Tanzania. We ended up having a grand old time traipsing around East Africa for about 40 days. Doug is in his seventies, a retired beekeeper, joking so much one never is really quiet sure when he's being serious, and he's an inveterate flirt. As I said he got me to talk to the princess, and a classic example of his mischievious influence: when we saw two cute girls at a restaurant in Ethiopia, he urged me to go talk to them. "Ask them where the Air Ethiopia office is" he suggested. "I KNOW where the Air Ethiopia office is!" I objected. "But they don't know you know!" he explained [cue that meme of the guy tapping his forehead knowingly]. I went and talked to them and they told me to sit with them and they'd show me where it was when they finished eating. Sage wisdom! No ladies would have been safe from Doug... if it weren't for the fact that on his previous visit to Ethiopia he had met and married a 22 year old Ethiopian woman.
   On this visit shortly after I arrived at Doug's house, he mentioned that Mebrihet had recently moved to Spokane to be nearer civilization and other young people.
   "I hope not permanently?" I asked, and he kind of shrugged and said
   "maybe? ... it was my suggestion actually."
   "Hey want to go look at some beehives?" he suggested brightly

   So we drove down the road another ten minutes in his pick-up to a beeyard of his where he had some nucs (small hives recently split off) he had introduced some experimental queens to from the University of Washington. It was around 5pm at this point, there were still several hours of daylight but it was quite brisk and a light rain misted down upon us intermittently. As we opened up the beehives to check if the queens were present and laying an F-18 fighter jet screamed through the valley on an apparent loop that brought it past us once every six minutes. It was quite close, and low, and I figured out it was a six minute loop specifically to try to be ready to get a picture, but never succeeded. Unfortunately for one reason or another many of the queens hadn't taken.

   Back at Doug's place he slapped some steaks on the grill for us and we cracked open some beers. As we were finishing a young fellow (early twenties-ish?) dropped in to talk to Doug, apparently he's on the autistic spectrum and doesn't have many friends, and so Doug tries to be friendly and makes him feel welcome to stop in.

   Suggested Musical Accompaniment For Next Bit:

   Like nearby Marcus, the original town of Kettle Falls was also flooded by the damming of the Columbia River

Thursday, May 25th - The next morning Doug took me to see some sites in the town of Kettle Falls. We poked around an old mill site, and the cute general store in town had a big antique store section that I perused for interesting things. Got several more beers from the fridge -- there's not much craft beer in Australia so I've been buying a lot of beer, more than I could drink, and when I finally returned to Australia I actually left quite a few interesting beers in their pantry! Good thing good beer ages well.
   We had lunch at this cute little diner style restaurant in Kettle Falls where we both had bacon burgers ('Murica!) sitting at the counter. The waitress walked by just as I was telling Doug I hoped to avoid petting any dead people in Bellingham, where Maureen works at a funeral home, Doug having asked what I would do there, and said waitress gave me an extremely strange look.

   Our last stop was the interpretive centre / museum by Kettle Falls. I just read the wikipedia article on Kettle Falls to make sure I got my facts right and if you have a minute it's actually worth a read, not too long and concisely encapsulates the story of the whole area I rather feel. For most of the last 9,000 years native Americans from a large surrounding area from the coast to the plains would come to Kettle falls to fish during salmon fishing season, with up to fourteen tribes meeting to trade, socialize, and settle disputes as well as catch the fish. The would only catch the weaker fish to ensure that the strongest would go on to breed. On June 19th, 1811, the first documented European explorer reached the site. Fort built nearby in 1825, Jesuit mission in 1845, hotel and resort town in 1891. In 1940 with the abovementioned dam building, Kettle Falls was flooded along with 21,000 acres of prime land used by the native peoples, and in June of that year 8,000-10,000 people attended a "ceremony of tears" as the falls disappeared forever under the lake. The dam now blocks the salmon from coming to to this part of the river at all.

   Inside the interpretive center we met a man dressed all in clothes made from pelts like a trapper, and it turned out he had made them all himself and was a thoroughly interesting man. He is or was a history teacher at the local high school, and there were a number of absolutely gorgeous muskets in the museum which he said his students had made under his direction -- I'm not talking about model muskets I mean fully functional and beautiful looking guns! He seemed a bit accent-deaf, he seemed to assume I was just Australian without any further complications (frowny face), and launched into an interesting story about this time he was arrested for vagrancy in the Northern Territory, locked up overnight, but of the two cells in the jail the male one was full so they put him in with the women much to the great envy of the other fellas, and in the morning the local magistrate, who happened to be a friend of his, came and let him out. Immediately he was asked "do you have a license to drive a truck?" "yes?" "good because this truck of pig iron needs to get to Sydney but the driver just died!" ... so shortly after being sprung from jail he found himself driving a truckload of pig iron the thousands of miles toward Sydney. And then apparently some time later he was employed shooting deer from helicopters in New Zealand, apparently with plentiful dear and venison being (at the time at least) worth twice as much as beef, it was cost effective to employ helicopter based teams to hunt deer for their meat. Which I'm only making the connection just now but that's kind of a weird modern equivalent to the trapper he was dressed as in the interpretive center.

   And by now it was around 13:00 and I was overdue to get on the road to meet my friends in Seattle for dinner! I'll save the drive to Seattle for next entry


Jul. 1st, 2017 10:20 pm
aggienaut: (Numbat)

   ( Beginning of this Adventure )

Monday, May 22nd - This day I was finally headed somewhere new (Spokane)! Unfortunately to get there I'd have to drive up the boring ole five a hundred or so miles to Portland, which I love, without having time to stop there, and then I'd be in new territory for the next several hours.
   As mentioned last entry, I left my friends Garian and Charlie's house in the morning just as they were leaving for work. I didn't really describe Eugene last entry but as I drove through it both coming and going I was really struck by how nice it seems. I've never been to any downtown area it may or may not have but everything I saw was tree lined streets and cute houses surrounded by lush shrubbery, it seemed extremely nice.

   Between Eugene and Portland the road is straight and boring. The kind of multi-lane highway that just steamrollers you through an environment, and even what you do see from it has been corrupted by it, as gas stations and businesses catering to the traffic crop up by the road and everything quaint wilts away from the concrete behemoth that breaths exhaust fumes and traffic noises.
   Still though, the surroundings are mostly farmland, and any little corner of undeveloped land sprouts a thick forest of trees as if the blanket of woods that once covered this land can only barely be held back.
   One shoots through the brief urban landscape of the state capitol, Salem, and then it's more of the same until you get to Portland, by far the biggest city in Oregon. Here you actually see highrises and overpasses and it took maybe half an hour to traverse the cityscape. Across the Columbia river, north of Portland, is "Vancouver," which is really just the northern suburbs of PDX (as locals call Portland), and this is confusing because of course if you were to follow the Five a few more hours north, you would arrive in Vancouver. Apparently Portland was founded by two very unimaginative men, one from Vancouver BC and one from Portland MN and they couldn't agree which of their home towns to name it after so they named one side of the river after one and the ther after the other (Oh if only they'd been a bit more imaginative and gone with Portcouver or Vancland or something). As it happens my travels took me off the Five here onto the 84, a somewhat smaller four lane highway that heads East from PDX following right along the southern bank of the Columbia river.

   ( Embedded map hates Coeur D'Alene for some reason, click here for whole map )

   The Columbia river is so wide you can easily see how it can be navigated by ships, and I couldn't help but picture the tallship Lady Washington out in the middle. My time aboard said ship has already come up many times in this present travelogue and I'm assuming it'll continue to. I first joined the boat in the Vancouver that's across the river from Portland and we sailed down the river westward to the sea, but the boat does go as far east upriver as, well, at least Pasco I guess. There's a fun song which I can't find audio of on the internet but the lyrics are here (if you want to use google fu to try to find an actual recording, the version I've always heard is by William Pint, and I note he does have a CD for sale with it on it that you can buy. If you're into sea shanties, it is worth a buy), about a time the Lady Washington sailed way up the river to Pasco in Eastern Washington. The last stanza describes the area:
      "Oh, Pasco is a dreadful place;
      It's a land that's seldom green;
      Where dust storms blow, trains do come and go,
      And tall ships are seldom seen, brave boys,
      Tall ships are seldom seen.

   For the first several hours though the road continues surprisingly straight along the southern bank for the river. The Columbia gorge was apparently blasted through the countryside by a torrential prehistoric floods from glacial lakes, which might explain why its surprisingly straight for a river. On either side the countryside was once again alternating thick forest or, where flat enough, farmland.
   Early on I passed a billboard for the "naked winery," in fact, I think I passed at least three billboards. At first I didn't even take note but by the third it had lodged in my brain and I was dying to know, what IS the naked winery?? Is it some swanky strip club with a winery theme? Is it an actual winery tasting room for nudists? Surely that sounds like a bad idea. When I stopped to eat and get gas in The Dalles, after I had googled what the heck the origin of the name of the Dalles was (apparently French for "the chutes," referring to the narrowing of the river here) I had to google the Naked Winery. Despite the innuendoes made on their billboards my very brief examination of their webpage seemed to indicate that it was just a winery. "Naked," is probably their chic way of saying they're organic like "naked juice," 'and other such "clever" hipster marketing ploys ::eyeroll::.
   Now as I may have mentioned I like to seek out non-chain little restaurants as I travel, and here in the Dalles I found a place called Burgerville that, I dunno if it has any other locations but I for one had never heard of it and it was new to me. I had a delicious hickery bacon burger with a side of DEEP FRIED ASPARAGUS which I think every burger place should have as a side from now on. And I once again pulled a flagrant Australianism. At first I tried to order a small drink, and the cashier said "are you sure, this is the small," holding up a tiny cup, and without thinking I exclaimed "THAT'S TOINY!!" and then as she looked at me with a "you're not from around here are you look" I ashamedly realized I had TOTALLY inserted an O in a word in which it didn't belong. Ironic because I'd expect a toiny drink in Australia, but in 'Murica, come on!

   Now getting gas in Oregon is something I find very tedious -- you cannot pump your own gas! The first gas station I pulled into in Oregon, remembering this, I waited for a minute or two at a pump but no one came up as I remembered happening. So I got out and looekd around and didn't see any obvious employees. Thinking maybe they had thank god changed the law I went to swipe my card in the reader but it wouldn't work. So I go inside, where I _did_ encounter an overweight man with a mullet and his overweight rat-tailed son filling up 64oz sodas ('Murica!), I asked the cashier how I pay for gas and he said I needed to bring him some sort of ticket or something, when I still looked confused he explained I needed to get it from an employee outside. So I go out and after some observation determined that there WERE employees pumping gas they just had no uniform or indication of their official status. Presently I was able to get one's attention, he wrote me up some kind of ticket thing that I went in and paid for and then I came out and he was pumping my gas finally .... altogether I found this to be a thoroughly tedious method of getting my gas paid for and into my car!!
   Interesting note on comparative gas pumping: In 'Straya, though they don't trust you to post-pay your restaurant meals, fueling your car, where you could easily accidentally drive off without paying, they always trust you to pay afterwords. And of course even though there's dozens and dozens of types of petroleum product we use in our daily lives, the one called gasoline is the one they call generically "petrol," and propane, butane, natural gas, and several other petroleum products they DO call generically "gas" ...

   Shortley after the Dalles, the landscape became more like the "dreadful place," described in the song. Clearly we were entering the priaries and the land around the river valley looked flat and grass covered. Then the highway splits, with the 84 itself veering away from the river and taking a south-easterly directly, and the 82 (which I took) turning north, crossing the Columbia, and then shortly crossing it again (at the infamous Pasco), because the Columbia also turns here and heads up north-west.
   From here the road leaves the river behind and just strikes off through mostly empty prairies for two hours until finally arriving in Spokane! Even though it seemed early for rush hour traffic (I think it was just before 3?) the traffic through the center of town was gnarly (and my phone GPS of course tries to avoid the most trafficky routes) and I think it took forty minutes just to get from the edge of town to my friend Brittney's apartment. Spokane itself looked a little smaller than Portland, I don't recall there being any particularly tall highrises, and I vaguely recall a number of old looking brick buildings in the downtown area. Having grown up far from Spokane all my life I've been saying it the way it looks like it should be pronounced (spoh-kane) but apparently it's (spoh-kenn) and I have serious trouble remembering to say it right.

This bridge gets mentioned further down in the entry but I'm putting it here to break up the text ;)

   My friend Brittney I met when I was on the boat (I told you the boats are really going to keep coming up on this trip. In this case the Hawaiian Chieftian -- the two boats generally hang out together but I started as a volunteer on the Lady for two weeks and then a few months later got a paid position on the Chieftain and was on for nearly seven months). They had actually let me off for once (we got a day off once every two weeks if we were really lucky) and I had been chilling for awhile in a coffee shop in the tiny town of Port Orchard in the Puget Sound and she had been working at the coffee shop. We've kept in touch in the intervening seven years, and though in fact one weekend I was going to fly up to see her in 2014 or 2015 but actually had fully booked my flight on the wrong weekend, which I discovered only when tried to check in to my flight, and the weekend I had actually booked I had something I had to do, so that was a few hundred dollars down the drain for nothing. So this was the first time I've seen her since she served me coffee in 2010.
   I've always liked to just skip over describing people because its hard but I'm trying to force myself not to shirk this (since originally posting the entries I've gone back and added a brief description of my friend Ben on day 0 and Garian in last entry). So Brittney, she's kind of slight, tattoos, lip rings in the position described as a snake bite apparently. While this description might make her sound kind of punkish, she these days is a conscientious mother to her three year old, Lily, and studiously undertaking online classes for a teaching degree.
   Lily is an adorable little blonde ball of energy. I had brought her a little stuffed animal kangaroo but then when I searched my bags to give it to her I couldn't find it anywhere, I don't know for the life a me where it got to. Searched my bags, the car, then my parents house when I returned, and even here, it has simply hopped off. In other news by this point I was starting to notice that all my friends I had visited had three year olds, this was turning in to Tour de Toddlers. Also I'd never seriously thought about it before but it also made me realize just about all my friends are either married with kids now or at least well on their way. I'm officially the man-spinster!

   So anyway, what is there to do in Spok-enn? Apparently.. leave and go to Idaho! After discussing what to do with the rest of the day we decided to go to Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, a mere half-hour east along the Spokenn River. Here in the bright summer late afternoon and early evening we walked along the docks beside the sparkling Lake Coeur D'Alene and ate at the rather nice restaurant in the hotel right on the water there.

Tuesday, May 23rd - Brittney had work as a nanny at 2pm but in the morning we went to a local botanical garden in Spokane. I love botanical gardens. One thing that was super impressive was the amount of pollen coming out of the tall pines in and around the botanical garden -- it was literally billowing like mist. A thick layer had accumulated on Brittsy's car in the mere hour or two we were there.
   The botanical garden was nice, there was a Japanese Garden there and I particularly love Japanese Gardens.
   After Brittsy went to work I drove to a state park just out of town on the west (downriver) side, "Bowl and Pitcher State Park." The camping and trailheads are on the inside of a bend in the river and there's a fun suspension bridge over the river here. Looking down, the river is moving so fast it's almost in rapids, and I saw some kayakers come shooting through. On the far side there's fun hiking trails all about. I spent the entire rest of the day hiking about here on the forest trails. Shortly I watching the sun set amongst the trees (nice and late in the evening) Brittney called to let me know she was headed home so I came back, and we watched Moina, as one does when there's a three year old girl about (actually I quite rather liked it as far as Disney movies go. It's about sailing and actually doesn't have any mushy romance at all! and my dear ex Kori is Hawaiian).

Wednesday, May 24th -
   Woke up on the couch with Brittney's two cats again (Bella and Nightmare), all I can remember doing that morning is that we went for a walk (Brittney lives only minutes from the river... so far my impression is that everything in this area is somehow minutes from the river) and fed some Canadian geese.
   And then it was time for me to continue on north! Which is a tale for another day!

New Names?

Jul. 1st, 2017 02:27 pm
aggienaut: (Numbat)

The House
   So I've been thinking that my adorable little house needs a name. That's a thing. The house across the street has a placard on the gate declaring it "Birchwood Place," or something, and many other houses have cute little names around here.
   At first I was kinda flailing about for ideas, but then after listing my extra bedroom on AirBNB (a great decision, the two couples who have stayed so far were both delightful to talk to and basically the way I see it I'm getting $100 to clean my own place) I was thinking how I'd have to explain to people that my house is heavily America-influenced and for example they better be prepared to drink real actual brewed coffee instead of Australia standard instant and deal with me having a christmas tree up in June because it's gosh darn winter ... and then I was like oh I should have a name that reflects this melding. Ameristralia? Ausfornia? Birremerica? (I'm in the town of Birregurra recall) Califgurra? Wait wait Caligurra actually isn't half bad! Also my home town is Mission Viejo, so on a humorous note I was thinking Nuevo Mission Viejo (New Old Mission) would be pretty funny, but not really a name I'm feeling. The full battery of humor in a name would be South Austral Nuevo Mission Viejo del Sud!

   So welcome to Austral Caligurra! Now I just need a cute little name plate to hang on the front gate.

The Blog
   So increasingly I'm feeling inclined to share my travelogues in semi professional places (for example I thought it might be nice to put a link in my personal profile on AirBNB), but "emo-snal" is kind of a weird name. And I get a lot of "you still use livejournal?!" from friends.
   Now here's one thing I'll tell you: I'm not about to leave livejournal! But I might try t figure out how to automagically cross-post to blogspot or something? Because it does appear to "look more professional" to have a blog on blogspot or wordpress. But every blog, EVERY blog, I've seen on either of those sites inevitably has maybe, MAYBE, one comment it one entry somewhere (usually by the writer's mother). And comments aren't everything of course but I don't have to tell you I'm sure that it's nice to get feedback and not fun to feel like you're talking into a vacuum ... and if they have a view counter it usually hovers at a few dozen, maybe a few hundred if they're popular. Once upon a time I put view counters in a few LJ entries and (admittedly this was back in the LJ heyday of the mid 2000s) it clicked up hundreds of views a day (which admittedly was probably not hundreds of people looking at it so much as you maniacs reloading your friends lists but the point is people to actually see the entries). So in conclusion I don't think blogs on blogspot or wordpress get many views unless they're one of the 1% who somehow goes viral. So viva la livejournal!

   Emo-snal Name Origin Story: When I first created my livejournal freshman year of college back in 2002 not more than a few minutes of thought went into the name, just "haha livejournal is so emo, so... emosnail!" (my yahoo email address was winged_snail). And then emo-snal split off as a prank turned experiment turned more successful than emosnail (namely I used emo-snal the first time I entered LJ Idol and by the time I was through with that season of LJI I had so much more going on on emo-snal than emosnail).

   So thinking of changing the name to something completely different finally (even though that'll break SO many internal links ): ). As long as I'm going through with this I feel it ought to be something really great. Nothing has struck me as really great yet. I use the name Arrghonaut in a few places, its a nice blend of piraty arrgh with travel / classically mythological / also sailing related argonaut. Then it occurred to me that you know, I work in "ag," which is to say agriculture. I bounced "ag-onaut" off my friend thinking it was a throw-away but maybe that's not the worst, and she shot back with Aggienaut (Someone who works in Ag is an Aggie, and it happens to have been my college's mascot!). Could be a thing. I suppose if I'm going to create a blogspot that automatically repeats from here I could just use the new name there and not bother renaming this one and breaking all my precious links.

   Humorous throw away name that's an obscure literary reference: if the house is Caligurra, it could be Caligurra's Horse!! (see also, Caligula's Horse)

   Other obscure literary reference tagline -- Don Quixote is always on about the romantic ideals of wandering "Knights Errant," so I'm thinking "Tales of a Beekeeper Errant" would be a fun tagline / subtitle. Possibly also title of one of my future autobiographical books ;) (though "I don't know about the rest of you," a favorite way to start FB status updates of mine, is still my favored autobiography title)
   Also you should read Don Quixote it's fantastic.
   Also zero of the half dozen or so Australians I polled had even HEARD of Don Quixote, which I must admit I was kind of alarmed about. I had proposed the trivia team name of "Don Quiz-xote & the Flailing Windmills" and everyone was like "is that a reference to something?" ... then no one could answer what two cities A Tale of Two Cities was about or what book Herman Melville wrote and I had to conclude apparently literature is not part of the education system here. :-|

   Anyway neither of these names is set in stone and suggestions are more than welcome!

aggienaut: (Numbat)

   (Beginning of this adventure)

   Oh hey I found out how to embed a google map finally and it turns out it's pretty easy. Here's this day's drive:

Sunday, May 21st - Between Antioch, and my first destination, Davis, The Sacramento River spreads out in a tangle of marshlands and channels in an inverted delta. I've always wanted to drive straight through this area on one of the small farm roads that goes through there, but alas I had nearly nine hours of driving on my plate this day, so instead I woke up early, before anyone else in the house (jetlag was also still making me naturally wake up at 5:30), and crept quietly out a window the front door. I got on the boring major freeway, which took me Bayward to where the bridge at Bernici, which crosses the inner bay high up in a narrow place. On the south side refineries cap the hill like a dystopian crown, billowing steam from a dozen spires. Tolbooths, a rare thing on the West Coast, guard the entrance to the bridge. As you go over you can see the mothballed reserve fleet in Suisun Bay to the right and the California Maritime Academy training ship, which looks a bit like a small cruise ship, moored up just to the left of the bridge on the north bank. From there it's a pretty boring drive on major multi-lane freeways east on the 80 to Davis and Sacramento. An interesting note about the 80 though is that is you don't get off in Sacramento it'll take you clear across the country, and there's a somewhat startling/whimsical sign just outside of Davis advising that it is "3073 miles to Ocean City, MD." Once in Davis I made my way down the leafy streets to Crepeville, downtown, where a "hawaiian crepe" I'd been dreaming about for many many months was to be had!
   But since that's a fairly boring way to get from Antioch let me just transpose my transit of the same leg in 2010 to here. I had mentioned in last entry we sailed in to Antioch amid spiders blowing in the wind. From there we continued on up river to Sacramento:
   Friday morning we set off to continue up the river. The shore for much of the way consisted of golden brown rolling hills topped with giant white windmills. The sky was completely blue, and the sun so bright you couldn't even look in that direction. Presently the rolling hills disappeared behind 30 foot banks on either side. As these banks were often quite lush with vegetation and you couldn't see beyond them, if one didn't know what was on the other side one might think we were travelling through tropical jungles.
   One thing that strangely gets no mention here is that I dinstinctly remember we passed a half sunken old-timey stern-wheeler paddle boat off to the side of the river. Probably not an "authentic" steam boat but someone's more recent folly (there is, after all, a paddle-boat that still plys the river near Sacramento for fancy charters), but nonetheless a picturesque addition to the river.
   In Sacramento that October we moored up downtown under "Joes Crab Shack," and I left the ship after six months aboard, I got a ride into Davis (11 miles from Sacramento down "the causeway" over rice paddies) with Maureen, a friend of the first mate's.
   Now, 7 years later, as I sat at Crepeville enjoying an absolutely delicious crepe, and in a gratuitous bit of Americana nearby some college cheerleaders from Sac State performed cheers for a small race that was on through downtown that day, Maureen confirmed that she'd love to see me if I happened to be coming up to Bellingham. Bellingham, just about as far north as you can get in the continental United States, happens to be another place I had visited on the boats, and loved! I added it to my trip plans.

   But I didn't have time to linger here in Davis! I was soon on the road again, headed up the Five through the northern half of the state. The north/south divide in California is always reckoned to be somewhere approximately around, well, Kettleman City, with the Bay Area and Sacramento solidly being considered "Northern California," but it's easy to forget that there's actually half a state north of THAT.
   North of Davis the Five continues straight north up to Redding, which I think is a small farming town? I don't know, no one ever goes to Redding. The land up here has always been green whenever I've seen it, and there's once again a lot of almond orchards but that gives way to undeveloped land forested with oaks and undulating with low hills before Redding. From Redding you can see Mt Shasta rising tall and freestanding, symmetrical like a pyramid, clothed in snow, due north. The freeway leads up to the mountain, well I suppose you're already "in the mountains" by the time you get there, the road slaloming along the sides of valleys, surrounded by pine covered slopes, but Mt Shasta always looms up above, dwarfing any other promontory that could presume to call itself a mountain.

   I had taken note that for only an additional 20 minutes on the trip I could take a wildly divergent course to Eugene. The Five goes there directly, or, at the town of Weed (main export... shirts with the town name on them) get off on the 97 and go on a wide scenic detour.

   I feel I should explain that there's been a relative scarcity of my usually abundant pictures because my phone likes to do this thing where it works fine during normal life and for some reasno the moment I go on a vacation it starts failing to save pictures. Sometimes they would immediately appear as an unreadable file, or sometimes more insidiously they would seem alright and then anywhere from ten minutes later to days later become an unreadable file. What pictures I do have from this whole vacation are only the ones such as the one above which I had uploaded to instagram.

   The above picture was taken from a scenic turnout north of Mt Shasta, looking back at it. The 97 was much more enjoyable than the boring ole Five, a two lane country highway it swooped among the mountains and becomes the main street of small towns. Almost the entirety of my journey on the 97 was through forested mountains and at some point there was even snow on the ground on either side of the road. I discovered that Klamath Lake, which the road runs along for a bit, is actually quite big. I was also excited to drive right past Odell Lake, which is subject of a game I remember playing on the monochrome-monitor computer in computer lab in elementary school, which was essentially a trout simulator (man they don't come up with game ideas like they used to!)

   Finally came in to Eugene around 6pm (of course there were still hours of daylight). I had come to Eugene on Epic Roadtrip 2008 and also stayed with my friend Garian and her husband Charlie, though in the interim they've lived in Philadelphia for most of the intervening time (I visited them there too though at some point). But now they had a (six?) year old named Charlie (like his father) and a (three?) year old named Aramea (I think??). Garian had been a friend of mine freshman year of college, way back in 2001.
   Enjoyed catching up with Garian and Charlie and it was funny Little Charlie apparently took quite a liking to me (kept interrupting conversations to try to tell me things), and Garian kept saying "this is weird he's usually really shy!"
   And they still had their adorable pet corgi even though I think Garian said she/he is like 12 now!
   Garian, tall and blonde, but not in a bimbo-esque way, had been Navy ROTC when I met her freshman year. I don't recall when or why but I think she ended up deciding what she was doing at Davis wasn't for her and next I can recall she was studying architecture in Eugene. This is where I thought she had met Charlie but I learned in talking to them this evening that the story is actually cuter than that -- she had been back home in Pennsylvania when they met and he had moved to Eugene with her. Then as mentioned they had both gone to Philadelphia and gotten married and now were back. Charlie is ethnically Syrian, I think he grew up mostly in the States, he seems as American as anyone, but I remember him mentioning a home town in Syria near the Krak des Chevaliers that in 2008 he had said he'd like to take Garian to visit some time. I think that plan is probably curently indefinitely postponed :-/

   The next morning Charlie and Garian had to get the kids fed and dressed and off to school (or day care or wherever such aged kids go) and get off to work themselves and I got to witness first hand the circus of trying to get even well behaved kids through this process in a timely manner!
   And at the same time they were out the door I was too! Destination: Spokane! (for the first time on this trip a place I've never been anywhere near!)

aggienaut: (Numbat)

Saturday, May 20th - This day began with a winding country road through narrow valleys as I worked my way through the hills from Camarillo to the main California northsouth highway artery. I had never driven through this particular area and it was interesting, orange groves and strawberry fields seemingly crammed into every flat place of small winding valleys. I was listening to a collection of Arthur C Clark's stories on audiobook and though I didn't realize the parallel at the time, it was a story about driving around on the mountains of the moon as I drove through this area, and now my memory of driving through this area is inexorably tied to visuals of moon rovers with big tires rumbling over craggy moon ridges.
   After maybe half an hour though I got onto the Five freeway and rocketed up over Tejon pass and down the steep automobile chute called the Grapevine into the broad empty expanse of the central valley.
   No sooner has one reached the valley floor than choose-your-own-adventure style one is confronted with a choice: the 99 or the 5. They'll get you up Sacramento way within minutes of eachother but the 99 goes through more towns and cities. I almost always take the 5 to avoid little mini traffic jams one might encounter in Bakersfield and Modesto. For that matter one can take the 101 which also goes the same route but goes through the foothills to the west of the valley -- it is far more beautiful but will add three hours to your journey -- and if you really have time to kill the 1 goes up the coast and takes forever but is by far the nicest -- if you ever are doing this journey as a tourist not native to California, absolutely go up the 1 and give yourself two or three days at it.

   The southern end of the Central Valley is flat and empty, as one takes the Five it passes an extremely smelly cattle feed lot and the experienced driver instinctively puts the AC on internal circulation before the first wiff of it. Once past it the road skirts the western hills and one can put the AC back on normal. The hills here can be rather picturesque in the right light. On this day they looked like the bristly coat of a freshly shorn golden sheep.
   About halfway on one's journey from So Cal to Nor Cal one comes to the exit for Kettleman City, and one stops here for food and gas. This town is barely more than several gas stations and restaurants just off the offramp. I'm vaguely aware that there are restaurants other than the In-N-Out but the idea that one would go to any of them is absolutely laughable. One goes to In-N-Out. This is the crucial caravanserias of California. This is the fuzzy naval of the state. The two crossed palm trees outside the In-N-Out are the axis upon which the state is balanced. As I turned into the In-N-Out on this occasion I noted that Kettleman City had erected a bizarre little tacky sidestreet of faux western facades. Lord knows what they were thinking when they decided on this.
   I pulled an embarrassing Australianism when I went into In-N-Out here: I rattled off my order like the native I am ("double double animal style no tomato diced chilies, fries and a small drink"), but then, THEN, I blithely waved my credit card in front of the reader like we do in Australia. The guy behind the register looked at me like I was absolutely insane (note for non-Americans, not only is this technology not available in the States, it's beyond even imagination. Someone waving a card in front of a reader must necessary be out of their mind).

   Continuing north up the highway it continues to be most of the same open spaces carpeted with dry grass, dotted with small towns off the highway (one of which is named Los Banos, which I believe is Spanish for "the toilets??"), some of which even also have In-N-Outs by now but Kettleman City is already a deep tradition.
   Eventually the empty grasses give way to orange groves. Shortly after entering the orange groves one sees highway signs advising of "Crows Landing," and then there's a facility with an enormous 30 foot tall fence around it, and every time I drive by it I wonder what it is but forget to look it up by the time I get home, and other people I've talked to who have done the drive say the same thing. Is it a prison? Is it a landfill? The world may never know. I could presumably look it up at this moment but that would violate the purity of my mind being in its original condition. There's traditions to be observed: thou shalt stop at Kettleman City; though shalt not look into what is going on at Crow's Landing.
   Also I always read the sign as more a warning sign to be on the look out for crows that are landing than that there's an actual place called Crows Landing.

   Then the orange groves give way to almond trees. Almonds are the most profitable crop in the central valley, and a few years ago farmers of other crops were pulling out all their apple or orange trees to make way for almonds, but almonds it turns out require a great deal of water, and there is now no more water to go around, so some fields have had their previous crops destroyed only to find they can't get the water to grow almonds. Also almonds are beehive intensive and the rapid expansion led to 70% of the bees in the country being demanded for pollination (or rather, enticed with pollination prices that rapidly rose from $40 / hive to $200). This in turn led to a greater stress on the bees as well as when even then they couldn't entice enough hives to come down, a perception of a bee shortage starting in 2005.

   A few hours north of Kettleman city one comes to another fork in the road. The Five continues to the right to Sacramento and onward to Oregon, Seattle, Vancouver Canada, and possibly onward to the North Pole as far as anyone knows. Okay I actually decided to google this right now, there's a Canadian route 5 that picks up near where the US 5 ends, and that joins the Canadian 16 and if you keep following it it meanders around and eventually seems to end as an obscure dirt "unnamed road" in a forest on a Canadian island. It would perhaps be an interesting roadtrip to follow it to it's very end!! If only I was legally allowed in Canada...
   The left fork on the other hand sends one through the windmill-topped hills into the Bay Area and a network of highways that end in -80 for some reason-- the 280, 580, 680, 880, etc. San Francisco is actually a picturesque city that is very worth visiting as a tourist, and my many friends who settled in the Bay Area seem to love it, but I myself hate traffic and therefore driving into the Bay Area.

   My roadtrip plan had been quite fluid over the previous 24 hours, there were friends I would have liked to see in San Francisco, so I was thinking of going into the Bay Area and ending the day there, and then perhaps making a short hop to the Davis / Sacramento area where I had gone to college. But My San Francisco friends turned out to be busy and my friend way up in Spokane turned out to have a day off on Monday so if I could hurry up and get there on Monday we could hang out all day. My beekeeping friend Doug was also near Spokane with an open invitation for me to come see him. I also sent my friend Maureen in Bellingham way up by the Canadian border an inquiry if she'd like to hang out, though for several years we'd barely been in contact so I wasn't sure if she would be amenable. And Koriander invited me to come sailing on the traditionally rigged sailing vessel Lady Washington, though it was unclear as yet when the most convenient time to do that would be.

   But anyway, here I was now at the fork in the road to take the 580 into the Bay Area or the 5 up to Sacramento and beyond ... and I decided to take The Third Path. The Middle Path, as it were. Since I hate Bay Area traffic, when my friend Nidia informed me in response to whether or not I could visit "sure but we moved out of the Bay Area to Antioch" as if it was a bad thing, I was in fact thrilled.
   Antioch is probably the furthest inland place that I would still consider part of the Bay Area. My first experience of Antioch was by sailing there on the sailing vessel Hawaiian Chieftain (not a sister ship of Lady Washington in that she's not the same design, but maybe a step-sister ship?). After sailing under the Golden Gate in the dark of night we turned North in the bay, several hours later (the boat doesn't go very fast) sailing up channel, under bridges, past the California Maritime Academy and their big training ship, past the mothballed battleships in Suisun Bay, and up river to Antioch, where spiders were blowing in the wind as we furled the sails aloft. The little spiders spun little para-sails of web and there were thousands of them blowing through the rigging on that swarm autumn afternoon. So Antioch conjures up for me memories of these spiders (I'm not arachnophobic so it's just classified as a great natural oddity in my head), as well as the quote from Mony Python and the Holy Grail about the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.
   I took the 580 fork but not ten minutes later, before it enters the hills, I found my GPS guiding me off the highway onto smaller roads that zigzagged through small communities among the hills. My favorite part of roadtrips is getting off the main highways, but unfortunately on this one I've had to beat feet on too much of it and spend a great deal of time on the Five. I therefore enjoyed this bit of routing I didn't even have to coax out of my GPS. Apparently the fastest way to get to Nidia and Trevor's house from the south, it nevertheless felt like I was skulking into Antioch through some obscure back way.
   Antioch, it turns out, is more than just a marina blowing with airborne spiders. Nidia and Trevor turned out to live in an area of suburbs that looked exactly like the neighborhood my family lived in when I was in elementary school in Orange County. Stucco houses of seemingly possibly the exact same design as back home sitting on quiet cul-de-sacs.
   Nidia has a master's degree in math, I believe, and finally has a teaching job in a local college (for a long time she was stuck in administrative positions in math departments), and her husband Trevor has and/or is working on a PhD in questionmark something pertaining to either physics and/or microbiology? I'm a bit unclear on it all. And they have a three year old! Named [quick mom what's their daughter named?]! Ii had not met their daughter yet, since I didn't want to impose a visitation upon them in the first year and then I've pretty much been gone for two. Nidia is one of my longest running friends, having met at a Model United Nations conference when we were 15, and despite having never gone to the same school or lived within half an hour of eachother we've been continuously friends ever since.
   That evening we went for a walk, along with the little one, along a nice bike trail behind their house. I was really enjoying how long the sunlight lasts here in the northern hemisphere. Nidia and Trevor are really into board games and have a table permanently set up in their garage next to a bookshelf of board games. Unfortunately it was rather warm with the garage door closed but with it open mosquitoes would come in. Nevertheless I was still relishing these summer-like conditions! We played what I believe is a sort of expansion of the agricultural board game Agricola that involves caves. Perhaps I should have tried regular Agricola first but I was enticed by the idea of cavemen, although it was more dwarf-themed as it turns out. Ah well. Live and learn.

   Altogether it was delightful catching up with these dear friends. Like some kind of cave dwarf, I happily crawled into bed that night on an air mattress in their living room and their cat came and snuggled up somewhere nearby.

Up next, I get off the five and take the scenic route to Eugene, Oregon!

aggienaut: (Numbat)

Friday, May 19th - The first leg of my journey north was a short hop past Los Angeles. It should be noted that "a short hop past Los Angeles" is my preferred method of dealing with Los Angeles. One of the biggest misconceptions I find foreigners have about the United States is that they've been falsely lead to believe Los Angeles is a delightful place. This is because Hollywood is in LA, and all the Hollywood types live in the good parts of LA with heaps of money and think its just wonderful and portray it so in their movies. But if you don't have more money than you know what to do with and spend your time at swanky parties in the hills, its an ugly traffic-snarled place where nothing is anywhere near walking distance to anything else. Sure there's cool things in the city, the Getty Museums, the La Brea Tar Pits, the giant botanical garden of Huntington Gardens the Museum of Jurassic Technology, but you've generally gotta slog for an hour through traffic at any time of the day to get from any one of those places to any other.
   And so it was we began in a two car caravan slogging through LA traffic -- my parents would return home from Camarillo in one car and I would keep going north in the other. I was in "the ravioli," mom's Rav4, with her, and dad was in his prius, though by being on the phone with us the whole way, piped through the dash system, it was like he was there the whole time, a disembodied voice. We were on our way to my mom's dad's place ("Roger," as he is known to one and all) for his 90th birthday. We popped into a Carl's Jr drive-through for food, where the Western Bacon Cheeseburger was on my to-do list .. and only after we were already on the road again did I discover they'd given me merely an ordinary cheeseburger, which was an educational experience for me since I'd never had their ordinary cheeseburger and, lo, verily, it is a miserable wretched excuse for a burger!
   Northwest of Los Angeles County is Ventura County, a rather pleasant swath of primarily coastal agricultural land between the sea and foothills. The traffic lasted all the way to the turnoff for my grandfather's house though. My grandfather's house is in the hills of Camarillo and is full of memories, as grandparents' houses often are. The back yard has a nice quarter acre or so of lawn that is quite pleasant on a warm sunny day such as this was, and is largely shaded by a big brazilian pepper tree under which my parents got married (though of course I wasn't present for this). The lawn looks off across a gully to where a single hacienda dominates the opposite hill. Slightly lower than the lawn there is a chicken coop and my grandfather's workshop, which is filled with all manner of big tools, circumnavigated by a model train track, and also contains a very large telescope and is topped with a big dome to accommodate said telescope.
   As to the house, it used to be chalk full of my grandmother's beautiful paintings. But alas she passed away, just over ten years ago now I believe. My grandfather remarried and his new wife cleared out all the paintings, all the family photos, and one day I came to find the fridge was covered not in photos of all the grandchildren and family members, but just one photo of Nora herself. But anyway.
   There's still Roger's bookshelf, full of thick dignified old books on locomotives, engineering, and old naval stuff ... the latter being the subject I most enjoy perusing.

   Another thing I often leave out of travelogues but find are interesting when looking back on them much later is the context of news at the time. On this day President Trump had just arrived in Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad and I was finding myself reloading newsfeeds hourly for the latest hilarious / mortifying news. Of particular note this day, Trump was pictured with the Saudi and Egyptian leaders all with their hands on a glowing orb as if they were definitely summoning some evil power. That evening the whole family made a point to catch the nightly news to hear the latest political drama, which has never ever been a thing we did when visiting before. Aside from Trump summoning evil powers in Saudi Arabia, back in Washington a special prosecutor had recently been appointed to investigate the firing of FBI Director Comey and possible Russian collusion by the Trump administration. As the whole family gave its rapt attention to the TV I wondered if this was what it was like to live through Watergate.

   The next morning some of us were leaving, though still others, such as my older brother Tobin, were still on their way. Nora's health was poor so it was intentionally arranged to not have too many people over at once. Since Tobin oozes self satisfaction and a wheedling need for attention I made my exit before he arrived.
   The sky was blue, the air was warm, and I was on the road alone in a very fuel efficient car with thousands of miles ahead of me!

aggienaut: (Numbat)

Wednesday, May 17th - The sky was blue, the weather warm -- in the 80s, which the people back in my other home call a hot day, but here we rightly know this is just delightful weather.
   There was just one problem -- I wanted to make the most of my brief return home --which is to say home home-- but all my friends had this thing called "work" during the day. I couldn't spend three weeks bumming around my parents house, that would surely fall well short of living life to the utmost, and there's no excuse for that. I tried to at least make evening plans with my friend Amber but she said the weekend would be better. I started plotting; I had friends all up and down the West Coast. "Mind if I stop by on Saturday evening?" I said to my friend up by the San Francisco Bay, "Mind if I come by Sunday?" I said to my friend in southern Oregon. "Hey what if I were to visit you on Monday?" I said to my friend in Spokane, Eastern Washington. The messages went out, the responses came back. The plan was coming together! Naturally some people were only available on some days and the plan kept changing, but that's the fun way to travel!
   And of course I needed a noble steed! Fortunately my dad retired just the other month and suuurely he can live without his prius (the gas mileage! the gas mileage!) for a few days. He graciously lent me its use with only a little grumbling.

   But there were still days to kill, since I had to be at my grandfather's 90th birthday party in Southern California that Friday, the 19th. As it happens, this girl I had matched on Tinder when I randomly had set my location to Israel on a whim (okay not 100% random, I was reasoning that Israeli girls are generally gorgeous. Though on this bizarre tangent, after randomly setting tinder to numerous different locations I think I scientifically concluded that Iceland really does have the highest concentration of beautiful women (and with names like Sigurbjörg, Valgerður, Hrafnhilder, and Sigríður (that last one is apparently the #3 most common name in Iceland!)) happened to message me on this very day saying she had just arrived in San Diego (no Icelandic name here, just Rechela). It wouldn't have been a terribly high priority for me to drive an hour to hang out with someone I'd never met before except all my friends were busy during the day, and I had been (vaguely) in touch with her for about a year. Also I wanted to go to the Stone Brewery down San Diego way though as luck would have it that didn't end up fitting in.

Thursday, May 18th - So on this fine Thursday morning I set off south for San Diego. I've reflected that one doesn't write about what one finds mundane, which is why to read about a place one must read travelogues by visiting strangers, rather than the reports of locals. So as I made this roadtrip, listening via audiobook to the epic travelogues of my favorite author, Paul Theroux, it occurred to me that I shouldn't just fast forward through that which is familiar to me as would be my instinct.
   And so let me tell you about this drive. Mission Viejo, my starting point, is a morass of "upper middle class" suburbs, part of some ill advised city planning idea in the eighties of "oh wouldn't it be great to create a city with no center," ... and verily it is not great, it is soul-less to have a city with no center. Just meandering homogenous suburbs one could get quite lost amongst.
   Fortunately that great artery of California transportation, the vehicular Mississippi of the west, The Five, runs through to demarcate the otherwise indistinguishable border with the "city" of "Aliso Viejo." Once on The 5 one can settle in, turn off the GPS navigation, and the currents will take you inexorably to San Diego and, if you miss the exit there, possibly on into Mexico by accident.
   During your first ten minutes the freeway takes you in broad sweeping motions towards the sea -- the seemingly impossibly high concrete overpass of the 74 toll-road comes swooping right out of the sky to join the freeway, and under it the golden beacon of an In-N-Out burger sign is bound to make the driver salivate for at least a moment. But barely has one shaken visions of delicious and highly affordable In-N-Out burgers out of one's head than there is the sea sparkling in the sun ahead.
   From here the freeway parallels the coast through the suburban city of San Clemente (which does have a main street, being incorporated before city planners were completely daft), and then suddenly one crosses a bridge over a gully that leads to the famous surf beach of "Trestles," which I regrettably have never been to (but it's seemingly constantly threatened, "save trestles!" having been a refrain I've heard all my life) and with jarring suddeness there's no more suburbs at all, just open space -- grassy foothills on the left and blufftops looking down at cliffs and the sea to the right. This is Camp Pendleton Marine Base, which is as big as all of Orange County and kind of accidentally an important natural preserve since most of it is reserved for occasionally dropping bombs on. Often on the sides of the road one can glimpse very exciting military training operations in progress, helicoptors landing troops, harriers taking off (back when they were a thing), tanks rumbling around. At the far end of the base there's a military hovercraft base but it has high walls around it to prevent peeking.

   But first at this near end there's another important landmark -- the "giant D cups" of San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, rising up like, well, yeah. Now recently decomissioned but still concretely dominating the grassy landscape like giant mammery monuments. Ozymandias, look upon my works ye mighty and be titilated.

   The freeway stretches on in more or less a straight line paralleling the sea, with, here's something that seems so mundane to me as someone who's seen it all my life that I'd almost not mention it but I've heard other visitors remark on it -- there's signs all along the highway with pictures of a ragged refugee-looking family crossing the highway, and amusingly sometimes they're going one way and sometimes the other. This is of course in reference to migrants-of-questionable-legality who may have crept across the mexico border and at this point can apparently be found crisscrossing the highway willy nilly. I have never actually seen any doing this.
   On the northbound lanes there's an actual checkpoint where you sometimes have to stop and immigration officers peer into your window and I assume make a snap decision as to whether you're white enough or not. But for really I'm assuming all this business is here because with the Marine base stretching for miles and miles inland any migrants would indeed be funnelled along the highway here.

   South of the marine base suburban looking towns begin appearing again first in the coves and valleys and closer to the city itself one can see track housing draped all over the hills again. Also the traffic gets noticably more viscuous. And then suddenly one comes upon the cluster of highrises that is downtown San Diego, just past the Sea World signs and first seen across the international airport in the foreground (I think there's few major cities whose major airport is as snuggled up to downtown as in San Diego).
   Rechela had communicated to me to meet her downtown. Which I later found out was merely because she thought that would be more convenient, whereas in actual fact I had to circle around for 20 minutes before finding a parking space in expensive metered parking, and later find out her actual hotel is in a less busy part of the city where I could have easily parked, oh well.
   Having met a few girls from tinder in my time, I've come to expect them to look somehwere between 50%-60% as attractive as they do in their pictures, if not 30%, so I almost didn't recognize her when I was first across the street from her because she was actually fairly attractive -- a tumble of curly hair down to her waist, denim skirt, those giant bug eyed sunglasses that I actually hate. Though I'll note from the beginning I wasn't looking at this as a "date" so much as meeting up with a penpal. We strolled around the Gaslamp District a bit, which I hadn't really done much before this. It's got that old timey look of, well, an era when cities were lit with gas-lamps. Lots of restaurants and bars opening on to the street and boutique stores, but not hideously pretentious expensive ones like in Los Angeles. This is what I like about San Diego, it's altogether pretty chill. It doesn't assume you have to be rich to have a good time. I went in a hat shop but none of the hats were as nice as the akubra on my head.
   Presently Rechela and I went into a Mexican place for lunch -- I've been thoroughly Mexican-deprived in Australia so I was extremely eager for this. For some reason the waiter, an elderly hispanic man with a gentlemanly mustache, seemed to be thoroughly ignoring us for the first half-hour, and I was relishing the opportunity to give him a poor tip (we don't tip in Australia so you have no satisfaction against poor service!), though in the end my icy heart warmed, especially when, after she just said "um, the chicken?" and I was about to direct her to the actual menu options, he put his hand on my shoulder and winked knowingly, and brought her a chicken burrito after all.

   After this we visited my old friend the clipper ship Star of India and while a docent explained basic sailing ship stuff to us I smiled and nodded and didn't bother letting on that yes yes I know all this. If this was to be a truly thorough travelogue I could fill in many paragraphs about the ships but I've written and will write plenty about sailing ships so we will indeed kind of fast forward here.
   Next we proceeded to Old Town, which I've always been rather fond of. It's about the size of a block, located just outside of the downtown area, and is a recreation of how the city would have looked in the mid 19th century or so -- adobe buildings of an extremely Spanish/Mexican style, staff in period attire, lots of good mexican restaurants with the smell of fresh tortillas being made wafting deliciously out their windows. I remember having cactus candy here when I was young.
   Much to my great alarm, barely had we entered when a staffmember in a dapper hat said to me "now where's that accent from?"
   "Guess?" I said, curious what he would say. And here's the truly alarming part. Without hesitation, and with great confidence, he declares:
   Later I polled two more staffmembers in the same manner and got more or less the same answer.
   I saw a sign pointing to the "Blacksmith" and down that way a bunch of people seemed to be paying rapt attention to whatever was afoot, so "hey let's go over there maybe there's a blacksmithing demonstration" I said to Rechela. Arriving there though we found that while the forge was lit and the guy in the leather apron may have recently been working on something, for the whole several minutes we were in attendance he was holding forth to a young man about the blacksmithing facebook groups he should join and follow if he wants to get into it. Blacksmithing in the modern age! We crept off after he showed no sign of imminently hitting heated metal with any hammers of any kind.
   We went into a "native american jewelry" shop because I wanted to show Rechela some native american art. Making conversation with the (Danish ... possibly named something like Sigríður??) woman in there I commented that it looked like the barrel outside was melting, as its hoops had come loose and the whole thing had shifted in a way that made it look like it was indeed melting.
   "Haha yeah and I think bees are moving into it" she responded. Oh really, I had to go out and have a look, and she followed me out. I didn't see anything, but
   "they were going in and out every few minutes earlier," she said, "maybe they're just scouting." Which was a remarkably accurate prognosis, exhibiting a degree of bee knowledge beyond most random people, and she said it in a casual way that was neither showing off her bee knowledge (as some people are wont to do) and yet presupposed I too would know what she was talking about.
   "Well yes, it's swarming season and this would be a perfect place for them," I said, eyeing the barrel, and she nodded as if she thought so too. And that was that. I just thought it was very odd that we just randomly entered into this conversation about bees as if we had already established we were both beekeepers or something. I never did find out if she had any background in beekeeping.

   And then it was time to go. I dropped off Rechela at her much-easier-to-get-to hotel and retraced my steps back north. Arriving just in time to change and join my parents on a journey up about thiry minutes further north to the top end of Orange County, where my younger brother's fiancee (to be married in two weeks at the end of my trip) had just graduated optometry school. There was a festive dinner at a japanese restaurant with many of her relatives, and other than that it was a thing that happened not really central to my travelogue, so I'll end it here and continue next time with the beginning of the journey north!

aggienaut: (Numbat)

   I have just returned from three weeks of vacation in the United States. After having not returned for 18 months I arrived and promptly went on an epic 3500 miles roadtrip the length and breadth of the west coast (this is the northbound half).

The Toughest 74 Miles
   On any given trip I swear the hardest part of the journey is to the airport. It's easier to get across the bush in Africa than to the airport in one's home country.
   I had booked my flight for 11:30am which I thought would give me plenty of time to get to the airport, but alas the earliest train through Birregurra (7:26am) doesn't arrive at the main Melbourne station till around 9:30 and its still half an hour from there to the airport. So after floating numerous hare-brained schemes I finally determined that my friend Ben would graciously drive me to the airport.
   Having to get to the airport 2 hours before the flight, plus adding another hour of buffer (has been a life-saver so many times!), plus an hour to get from Geelong to the airport, plus an hour to get from Birregurra to Geelong, plus an hour to get our of the house, meant I was waking up in the pitch black at 5:30! Glad I didn't have an earlier flight!!
   I had actually completed my packing early the day previous, which is really weird for me, usually a thoroughly last-minute packer. It felt so weird to not be scrambling to get everything packed at the last minute, and have ample ample time to try to think of what I might have forgotten.
   And so by the dawn's early light I found myself making one last check my kitchen we clear of perishables, trash cans empty, unnecessary devices unplugged, everything packed, and I was off. Sun slowly emerged from the mists and colorized the world as I headed in to Geelong town. Left my car at Ben's in the Geelong suburbs and we continued on in his car. Ben's a bit stout with a head like a jack-o-lantern, complete with a big gap toothed smile, but he has a heart of gold, or perhaps we should say golden seeds. The freeway from Geelong to Melbourne is a boring affair like any multi lane freeway, complete with rush hour traffic, but by and large we arrived right on time.
   My uncle Pat had requested I bring him a chainsaw from Australia, which seemed a bit weird but since he was really keen on it I thought I'd play along.. despite this thing being like 45 pounds. "Unfortunately," when I tried to check it they declined to accept it, apparently having a policy against gas powered appliances. This would have been a debacle if I had taken public transit to the airport but as it happens I was able to just have Ben circle back around and put the chainsaw in his trunk.
   One really cool thing is that since it's a 17 hour time difference and a 15 hour flight, I would be arriving TWO HOURS BEFORE I LEFT!! This greatly amused me and I made the most out of making statements like "later when I will have arrived two hours ago"

The Easiest 8000 Miles
   Virgin Australia airlines has swanky airplanes. On my return flight we trooped past the first class BAR on our way in, as in an actual bar counter with bar stools. The other weird thing about Virgin Australia I noticed is about 85% of the flight attendants were male. Most airlines of course have mostly female flight attendants and well I guess good for them that they broke the gender-roles here but it was interesting to note it wasn't just 50-50 but had totally swung the other way ... and also, the guys were all extremely metrosexual. Like, I hope for their sake its not part of their dresscode that they must have exquisitely sculpted hair and delicately engineered facial hair, because it looked like they all must spend heaps of time on their faces. And in fact for all that the guy on my aisle was actually a bit gruff on the actual customer service delivery.
   Virgin Australia safety video was kind of fun, had a random racecar theme. I think I give it second place among current airline safety videos (Air France has a cute one with sassy models, who are cute, and also sassy music). The biggest deficiency on Virgin Australia though was a pretty small selection of in-flight movies.

Random In Flight Movie Reviews
   Watched the most recent Bourne movie ("Jason Bourne" - like they couldn't even think of a good title). The very first one was epix, and the second was also extremely good for a sequel, but then they started to lose their magic, quickly. Third was still very good. This one though, they are just flogging this series way too much. Still better than that one that didn't have Bourne himself though ("Bourne Legacy").
   Watched the movie Passenger and was fairly disappointed -- they made a spaceship that looked like it behaved in accordance to physics (that is the usual spindle shape spinning to make centrifugal force for gravity), but that wasn't actually the source or its gravity. Found neither main character very likable ... and had a lot more thoughts but that was three weeks ago. But spoiler alert it seems to creepily romanticize stockholm syndrome?

Back in Time and Back Home
   Two hours before I left, I found myself arriving in LAX! I really wanted to, you know, create a temporal paradox by texting myself or something but there were some troubles getting my old sim card to work again so I was incommunicado until after the time overlap --- clearly the universe's way of preventing me from breaking reality!!!
   My parents picked me up at the airport and of course we made a bee-line for In-N-Out Burger, and verily, it was delicious.

   Up next, the adventures begin!

aggienaut: (Spacecat)

   I've had this idea pertaining to creative writing.

   But first, by way of background. I've recently gotten into this science fiction series, the Honor Harrington Series, anyone else read it? I like it, I mean I've read thirteen of the books in the last few months. I like the universe he's created and all. But there's a big problem: I've become convinced there's really only two characters. Oh sure they have different names and do different things but there's only two personalities that have been cloned over and over again. There's the superlative good guy who is smart and nice and everything good and there's the arrogant blustering bad guy. The main character is the smartest, craftiest, most noble person and gosh dang it people like her, and any semblance of a bad quality she might have are the kinds of crap you answer during a job interview when asked about your greatest weakness, you know, "oh, too much of a perfectionist," "too willing to sacrifice myself for others," and "my limbs don't grow back when shot off so I had a gun built into my hand last time it got blown off." Also she has bionic vision and can read minds. This guy does NOT write complex characters.

   So it got me thinking, there should be a character test. Like, a short story in which the character is put through their paces through a wide range of emotional circumstances and ethical decisions, and one could take this short story and drop in any significant character they're working on to explore how the character's behavior and reactions differ from other characters. ... and if you always get the exact same outcomes maybe you need to work on character complexity.

Completely Unrelated Photo of the Day

Cato is a complex character. Sometimes he chases the other cats, sometimes he helps groom them.

   So I've been trying to think of a story idea with the requisite emotional range, and you know it doesn't even have to be original since this isn't for to be published as a final product, but I couldn't think of anything.

   On the ethical decisions front I was thinking well I guess I could contrive to come up with a sort of classic "trolley problem," situation (has "trolley problem" been an LJI topic yet? It totally should be one).
   And then I remembered the Kobayashi Maru test in Star Trek. Depicted in the opening scene of the Original Series movie The Wrath of Khan, it's a training exercise meant to put an officer in an unwinnable situation -- they receive a distress call from a ship in Klingon space, where there seems to be a bit of a cold war on and entering the space could be seen as an act of war -- if the officer attempts to rescue the Kobayashi Maru they inevitably get destroyed by Klingons. That's the basic gist of it, but in countless spinoffs and novelizations, people "beat it" in various ways, and the biggest shortcoming seems to me to be that if the officer in question chooses not to violate international galactic law by proceeding into Klingon space... nothing happens. Seems a bit potentially anticlimatic.
   But anyway this got me thinking of ways to modify the Kobayashi Maru test for my purposes, and as such my thinking kind of stayed in that genre (that is to say, sci fi with the protagonist commanding a spaceship). Then I was thinking I should combine this test with the trolley problem.
   So the combined trolley problem / Kobayashi Maru test I came up with is more or less this: while in command of a starship he learns that a number of civilians have been taken captive from a nearby colony by an enemy ship. He quickly finds that ship and that ship turns to attack him. Now the situation is this, he actually can easily destroy it, but there are more innocent civilians being held captive on that ship than there are crewmembers on his own, so destroying that ship will cause a greater net loss of innocent/good-guy lives. And let us say he can't outrun it, and it is intent on destroying him, and he can't just sit there and take a pounding he must either destroy it or be destroyed. Should create some drama right? I actually kind of want to write this story for it's own sake now. Also I've kinda had a hankering to write some space faring sci fi that doesn't violate any laws of physics except maybe an extremely efficient propulsion system -- no artificial gravity, no faster-than-light, no "inertial compensator" to prevent people from being turned into jelly if you accelerate at 500 gravities...

   Granted, this doesn't answer other pertinent questions I would have liked to explore, like "how does the character perform at work after receiving unrelated emotionally distressing news," or "how long will they stay on hold with the phone company customer service representative and will they give them a piece of their mind," but we might have to drop them into a wholly different situation to explore that one.

   A somewhat related beef I have is how so many authors seem to write people fundamentally differently if the setting is the Middle Ages or contemporary or in the future. I really like historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell but his stories also have some serious character deficiencies (I swear all his protagonists are also all the same guy), and he'd have to believe that everyone who lived in the 10th century just loooooved battle more than anything else. Drop your pirate into a modern starbucks and if he seems like he fundamentally wouldn't fit he's probably not realistic for his own time either.

August 2017

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