Saturday, December 13, 2008

On the bus

Long-haired, bushy-bearded man #1: How are you?
LHBBM #2: Forty-four.
LHBBM #1: Forty-four? What?!
LHBBM #2: I'm forty-four.
LHBBM #1: I didn't ask how old you are! I asked how are you doing?
LHBBM #2: Oh. I'm fine. How are you?
LHBBM #1: I'm forty-nine. Are you on medication?
LHBBM #2: No . . .
LHBBM #1: I am. I'm on [unintelligble].
LHBBM #2: Oh.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

There will be bruising

'Cause there's already blood.

I wanted to go down to the Portland REI to look at the Ortlieb messenger bags that are currently 25% off; it was hard to tell online which size was best. (I had taken a look at the Chrome bags, way back when, but decided they weren't for me.) There are a number of ways to get down there but I opted for riding my bike, partly because I haven't been riding much and partly because I need to force myself outside my comfort zone sometimes. I have very little experience riding downtown and the only way to overcome my fear of it is just to do it -- I learned that after I found all my months of fretting over riding at night were for naught.

Today was one of those sunny/rainy days, and when I left the house it was nice, but about 3 blocks down the street I saw it wasn't going to stay that way. I was totally unprepared. I was wearing a light, permeable jacket; my gloves were MIA; I had left my lights on the stairs; and I had fiddled around with my new Freddy Fenders and then left them for another time. Before long I was cold, my bare hands were slipping around on the wet handlebars, all the cars on the road had their headlights on, and puddles were impending.

Attempt #1: mission aborted.

A bit later I was back on the road, having installed the rear fender as a start, dug my gloves out of a pile of laundry on the bathroom floor, popped the lights on, and changed into a warmer, dryer jacket.

Attempt #2: mission accomplished.

I'll skip the whole REI-on-a-Saturday-during-a-sale-part; everyone knows how that story goes.

Then I found myself in an unfamiliar part of town, trying to find my way home without a plan. Everything looks different on a bike, and I might just as well have never seen these streets before. So I was puttering along some Eastbound street, and decided to take a right onto some Southbound street, and I was thinking about getting over to the left lane, and whether I had any idea what I was going to do after that, when it happened:

The dreaded trolley track take-down.

It's kind of funny how you have time to think, "Uh oh. Bad idea," as your front wheel locks into the track and you start the downward motion. It was a slowish fall, but I landed hard. My only saving grace was that there was no other traffic on the street, other than the one worried-looking guy walking by. I told him I was fine, picked up my bike, and hobbled over to the sidewalk, but I was hurting. The bike looked okay and by then I really wanted to get home, so I figured I'd check my injuries later. Heading up the Hawthorned Bridge I realized my left shoe was not only moving freely on the pedal from side to side, but just as freely from front to back; the impact had nearly ripped the cleat from the shoe. I pulled over at the bus stop, whipped out my handy Swiss army knife, tightened the screws and went home to survey the damage.

Elbow: round, bloody scrape, less than 0.5" in diameter. Glad I was wearing a jacket and not just the sleeveless shell I had on underneath -- ouch!

Hip: An approximately 3" by 3" expanse of relatively minor road rash, under the shorts, no embedded gravel. Yay!

Also: Scrapes to both ankles.

So, not too bad. The wash up wasn't bad as no scrubbing was needed; the wounds are clean and since there was no direct contact with the ground I doubt flesh-eating bacteria will be a problem. All in all, I'd say the trip was a success.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A funny thing happened on the way to saving money with Zipcar . . .

When I first sold my car, I figured if I spent anything under $400 per month for transportation I'd be ahead of the game. It didn't take long though, to start thinking of $0 for car expense as the norm, and anything over that as excessive. I started consciously cutting back on my Zipcar use, cringing at every dollar I spent for the priviledge of driving.

The problem? Whereas before we never really went anywhere fun because I was concerned the Subaru wasn't dependable enough, now we never go anywhere fun because it costs too much to rent a car for the day. Arrgghhh! How did this happen??

I have recently identified travel as my #1 recreational priority. But here's the thing: Local travel counts. There's a limit to the number of big trips we can take every year, so to maintain our spirit of adventure we need the little trips. I have to budget for local travel as well as distance travel.

So . . . I can rent a Prius for $62 per day. Four days per month -- either 2 full weekends, or one day each weekend, or some combination therein -- is $248. Math is not my forte, but I believe that leaves about $150 per month before I hit that $400 level. That's 15+ hours of running around town, which should be fine if I organize myself a little better.

Now the only thing left is to arrange my finances so I can get on the $250/month plan and save 15% instead of 10% on my hourly rates. The problem is that the plan amount is taken out of your account at the start of the month, all in one chunk. With the plan I have now, they take $50 on the 1st-ish, and then I pay as I go. But this last month? I spent over $300.

Of course, that included $73 for a trip to the beach at Oswald West, which was more than worth it. It was sunny, beautiful and warm, and at low tide the tide pools were packed with anemones, sea stars and fish, and a number of cool caves that are normally underwater were made available for exploration. This is why we have cars. This is what makes the trade-offs worthwhile.

Dude! What happened to my blog?

There I was, clipping along, building readership, garnering such nice comments on other blogs . . . and then what happened? Well . . . the end of summer happened. The shortening days are already taking their toll on my mental and physical energy. This is the time of year when I struggle just to achieve fundamental competency in my day-to-day life.

So, I can't promise to write as often as you or I would like, but I do promise to do my best. I've already started renting Zipcars an hour at a time for quick trips around town; there's no telling what winter will bring. Maybe once I finally get the fenders installed on my bike . . .

Sunday, September 21, 2008

She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes, when she comes . . .

So, Mary Lou . . .

The highlight of a visit to Many Glacier is the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which starts near the Many Glacier Lodge and winds alongside Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, up to Grinnell Lake and, if you are fortunate, all the way to the Grinnell Glacier. It's a beautiful trail.


We started hearing from hikers coming back down that they had seen a grizzly on the trail. We heard subsequently that the bear had gone down toward the lake, but could still be seen on the hillside, eating. With this in mind, we continued talking loudly and making noise as we were instructed we must do, even though this goes against everything we've ever learned about preserving the wilderness experience for others. In this picture, Adam has gone ahead of us and is approaching the corner around which he will disappear momentarily. The picture I only wish I had is of him hotfooting it back around the corner a minute later, elbows bent and arms swinging at armpit height like a Saturday morning cartoon, going, "Oh, hell no! I don't think so!" I asked him if he saw the bear, and he said, "Saw it?!?!? I almost ran right into it!" He had turned the corner only to find himself face to face with the griz, which was sitting in the middle of the trail, munching on who knows what. He said he jumped, the bear jumped, and they took off in opposite directions.

I was thinking, damn, I wanted to see the bear, when over the ridge it came. It was moving at a pretty good clip approximately parallel to the trail, and we did as we were also instructed, which was to be quiet and slowly retreat. The bear kept its eyes on us with what I imagined to be an expression of friendly curiosity, and then turned sharply downward, hit the trail and started coming our way, its curiosity now seeming a little too friendly. I was having this little conversation in my head, with one voice wanting to wait until it got closer to get a really good picture, and the other voice reminding me that this is what stupid people do.

So we turned and continued down the trail at a worried pace but not running, which is known to create a predator/prey dynamic that doesn't generally turn out well for the prey. Isabel was in front of me, suddenly more motivated to get moving than she had been all day, and I kept saying, "Don't run, honey; don't run," as calmly as I could. But every time I looked back I saw that damn bear, following us at maybe 40 feet, not charging but definitely matching our pace.

When we turned a corner where it couldn't see us, I said, "Now run! Quietly!" We continued this way, walking when we were visible, trotting along when we weren't, until we were pretty sure the bear was no longer following us.

We passed several small clusters of people on their way up the trail, and warned each of them that there was a grizzly right behind us. They reacted with a mixture of alarm and curiosity, but not even the most unnerved among them actually turned around; they wanted to see the bear too! After a while we figured they were providing plenty of distraction for ole Smokey and we no longer needed to worry.

Here's the griz just coming over the ridge:

Here's the picture I really wanted:

Just kidding! Credit:

Here's our $47 souvenir, purchased later that same day:

Makes a nice trophy, no?

We wanted to try the trail again the next day, but by then it had started raining and blowing and we decided to move on to Rising Sun, where we caught one quick glimpse of the mountain lion frequenting that area, but no more bears . . .

One way not having a car sucks . . .

. . . is agreeing to go with friends on a 3-day group activity about which you have grave doubts, confiming not long after arrival that you will indeed best remember this as 3 days of your life you will never get back, and being stuck 2 hours from home for 3 looooooooooooong days of boredom and hunger because 1) the one and only form of entertainment is getting drunk and acting stupid and 2) the people in charge of meals think a plate of stir fried cabbage = a vegan dinner.
This sucks.
Trust me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

So I never got back to the Glacier story . . .

Because that's so last month. In the future, I will finish writing about a trip as soon as possible after returning home, because eventually I start losing interest and it becomes less pleasure and more work.

So, briefly . . .

There is no regular transportation between the West Glacier Amtrak station and the entrance to the park. Wtf??? All the literature and websites make it sound like Glacier Park, Inc., the commercial shuttle, does this run. But when I called to make reservations, they told me they only run between their own properties. And they really had no suggestions. When I asked, "What do people do?!?" he was all, "Well . . . usually they rent a car." So FYI: if you don't have a car and for any reason cannot hike the 4 miles from the station to the park, it'll cost you $46 for a private transportation company to carry you. And of course, another $46 to get you back.

We found the free park shuttle to be brilliant. Buses ran frequently and we never had a problem with them being full to capacity. (I do understand, though, that it's a different story when the park is packed with visitors. We were there the week before Labor Day and it had apparently cleared out quite a bit.) The shuttle runs the length of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which bisects the park from west to east (or east to west . . .) and it stops at all the trailheads and visitor centers. We, of course, always had waaaaay more stuff than the other passengers, but everyone was helpful and never cranky with us. I was surprised how many people drive in, park somewhere, and then take the shuttle to get around the park.

A caveat: If you go without a car, have some extra funds available in case of the unexpected. Although we had 2 gorgeous sunny days, it started raining our second night there and kept it up for the next 3 days. This caused us 2 problems: Logan Pass, where the Sun Road goes over the Continental Divide, was closed through a day and night due to the weather, leaving us stuck on the east side of the park. People who had cars could drive around the park, or explore the surroundings, or just go home, but we didn't have these options. Plus, the borrowed tent (not my tent) was about as waterproof as a fort made of old sheets. (There's a long, funny story there involving efforts to salvage a little dryness via a large number of cheap tube tents and emergency blankets, but I'll not go into that here.) We ended up staying in a motel room our last night there, which was only made possible because the intended guest was stuck on the west side of the park.

Had the pass not re-opened in time, our options would have been to pay dearly for ground transportation all the way around the southern perimeter of the park to West Glacier, or pay slightly less dearly to take ground transportation to East Glacier and pick up the train there. Fortunately, the pass opened and this wasn't necessary.

We wanted to go on a trail ride in Many Glacier, which I bet would have been fantastic, but it was raining and blowing too hard. We ended up going on a ride in Apgar, which I found to be pretty tame. (There's a long, not really very funny story here about how people in Montana are unable to give clear directions to anywhere, and how this complicated our effort to get to the corral on foot, but again, I'll not go into that. Suffice it to say it involved a lot of power walking, sharp words, passive-aggressivity, sweating, the kindness of strangers, a borrowed cell phone and a scooter.)

One of these days, I'll tell you about getting chased by that grizzly . . .