Thursday, August 30, 2007

My new Macbook Pro

Yup, starved myself on soup and stolen hotel food for lunch for over a month on that MT job - which by the way dropped me like a bad habit when I got back from my hike - so I could save up my per-diem to get a new laptop. I didn't get as much saved as I wanted of course because I was lied to and not offered a position when I returned like I was promised. They apparently got bought by another company and can't use temps anymore... but I'll tell you one thing... I was teaching the people at a higher pay grade how to do their jobs by the time I left! Yeah... I'm pissed and bitter... but anyway.... today I purchased a new MacBook Pro for myself. I waited a full year for updates to come out etc, and I get a free Nano which I'm selling to recoup some of the cost as well. I got over half saved for it so I guess it's not too bad. When I actually have it in my hands I'm sure photos will be coming to the blog... :)

Getting back to Portland... and a Concert

Last night after a very long drive with Tom across Montana, Idaho, and Washington I arrived in Portland around 8pm to meet up with Brendan, Karen, and her Republican buddies to hit up a concert downtown. I was exhausted but as usual up for anything! We ended up grabbing a few very expensive drinks at the bar before heading downstairs for the show. The group is a local group which tours the nation called "Stars of Track and Field". I personally thought they were pretty damn good. Karen's friends were real cool and I look forward to heading north to Portland occasionally to hang out with them all... so long as I don't let them know my true political views... haha.

Continental Divide Trip

Well, I just got back from my Continental Divide Trip. It was a fantastic time. I met up with Tom Shimko in Olympia Saturday and we drove scenic route 12 across the state of Washington to meet up with the rest of the crew at Jackson, MT, a town of about 18 people. The trip took us two days as we left around noon on Saturday from Olympia. Tom drives a 1987 Honda all wheel drive car that has nearly 300,000 miles on it. To be honest, from the look of it at first I didn't think we were going to make it but to my suprise the car is pretty darn burly. Check the picture out... We ended up driving into the dark and found a fishing launch site along the Clearwater River that branches off from the Snake River into Idaho. It was a beautiful night and we even caught the International Space Station Floating by above. It was so nice I didn't bother to set up my new Bibler Bivy and instead camped out under the stars. I must have passed out early because I never heard Tom's usual loud snoring at night. Maybe it was the half bottle of wine he shared with me before we fell asleep (I haven't drank much in over a month- except for a few friday night when I met up with some friends at Squirrels). We woke up early to a beautiful morning to continue on towards Wisdom and Jackson, MT. The sunrise was beautiful in the river canyon.
As we were driving through Idaho we quickly came into valleys completely chocked with smoke from the fires in Montana. This has been a really bad year for fires with drought throughout the midwest and we certainly got a first hand experience of it. The haze of smoke was so dense we could barely see more than a half mile down the road. I couldn't imagine the acreage that must be burning to produce such a cloud! Tom and I took turns driving (thankfully I knew standard) and we got to Wisdom, MT in the early afternoon. We stopped to talk to the firemen there to check about the safety of our hike which looked to be ok. The largest forest fire was on the northern side of the road we were hiking to and moving in the opposite direction of us (Rat Creek Fire) so we felt confident to start our trip.
When passed a hay truck which was completely engulfed in flames on the side of the road on the way to Jackson Lodge to meet the others. When we pulled in we immediately met Skot who seemed to be a drifter for the summer around the West taking on odd jobs where he landed and trekking around to see the land. Health issues combined with a bit of bitterness towards Backpacker Magazine for not hooking him up with free gear for the trip (ironically he was specifically upset about the lack of free socks) led him to decide to bail on the trip with us. Tom and I then met Aaron and Cory who had been relaxing in the hot springs. They seemed like great people and genuinely interested in the organization of the hike.
We got together for a bit and looked at maps in the lodge and finalized our plans for the trip. We were to shuttle Tom's car to Big Hole Pass, Mt. that night (Sunday) and then on Monday morning take their car (Xterra) to Goldstone Pass, MT to start the hike. We then distributed the little food that backpacker had provided us and after shuttling cars and grabbing dinner in Wisdom, MT (30 minutes north) we ended up back at the Lodge.
That night I spent relaxing in the hot springs (a giant swimming pool as hot as a hot tub) and drinking a few beers at the bar with locals and Skot, who seemed to know everyone. We paid the owner 10 bucks and were able to set up our tents in the backyard of the lodge for the night as well as have access to all the facilities of the beautiful lodge. I can't say enough how beautiful the interior of the lodge was.
The start of our hike was kind of dismal. After a ridiculously long approach via car over 20+ miles of dirt road and cow fields we started our hike up 1500+ feet climb up a jeep road to the the actual Continental Divide (for those who don't know The continental divide splits the water drainage into either the Pacific or the Atlantic depending on what side you are on). From there we crested a ridge at 9,240 feet ( could feel the elevation a little coming from sea level) which was to be our highest point on the trip. We then descended a very steep, crumbly hill (scree field) towards a lake called CowBone lake because apparently about 50 years ago about 300 head of cattle collapsed through the ice into the lake perishing. On the way to the lake we completely lost track of the very vague trail through the woods and rocks. When we got the lake and found it I decided to run a quarter mile up the trail to find it again but also had trouble. I did get to take a few pictures of some Marmots while searching around though. When I got back down the lake the group had met a Thru-hiker who helped us on our way. The whole point of this trip was to map out the official Continental Divide Trail so that the National Historical Trail could be built and finalized in our path, thus I felt it very important that we be as accurate a possible. After chatting for a bit we continued on around a few alpine lakes with great views. At this point my collar bone was beginning to really kill me (the shoulder strap was sawing into the notch of bone left by my 1999 crash) but I continued on trying to ignore the pain. After crossing paths with several groups of 4wheelers (apparently Montana doesn't have any true "wilderness" areas so motorized vehicles can unfortunately travel pretty much anywhere unless otherwise posted). Before heading down towards the valley we came across some beautiful old cabins abandoned in the mountains. That night after a long descent down from the mountains to, ironically, within a mile of our starting point over a ridge we set up camp along the roadside next to a creek running through cow fields and coming out of a beaver dam = perfect place for me to test my new UV steripen water purifier. Giardia takes 2 weeks so I'm still waiting to see if it worked or not.... yikes! That night it poured buckets of rain, which on one hand I'm sure helped the firefighters, while on the other completely nailed us. Thankfully my Bibler Bivy performed flawlessly both keeping me dry inside without leaks and without any condensation due to the Todd Tex's high breathability.
Tuesday morning we continued on the valley road and then up into the mountains again. It was a beautiful day of hiking through the hills and we were able find a great campsite along a small creek. The weather had appeared to clear but I decided that I would set up my bivy just in case and I'm glad that I did because at over 8,000 feet I was pretty cold at night in my 12 year old, 20 degree bag, that had obviously lost it's rating.
Wednesday turned out to be a truly unbelievable day. It was up to then the hardest day of the trip with over 3,000 feet of climbing for the day over 12+ miles. We found ourselves ascending from around 7,500 feet to about 9,000. This took us several hours but the views we were rewarded with at the pass were truly amazing. Jagged peaks all around us with alpine lakes sprinkled about like raindrops on a carpet of lush green conifers. I took a ton of photos this day of all the views which of course can be seen by clicking the title of this entry for the slideshow of all of them. I had turned to using my packtowel as padding for my broken collarbone which worked out great and combined with my pack finally breaking in and loosening up I was feeling great except for a few blisters starting on my toes. Traversing across the slopes of the high terrain Tom spotted a brown/black bear which quickly sprinted off when it caught wind of us. I kept looking for big horn sheep as I saw on Montana's high point years ago but wasn't as lucky this time around. Wednesday night turned out to be quite the show for us. We set up camp at a beautiful alpine lake on our descent down towards a river valley. We could have pressed on I supposed but the lake was so beautiful and appeared to be begging for us to set up camp there. We did and boy were we rewarded! As we were filtering water and cooking up dinner Tom spotted another bear (look closely at the picture here and you can see the outline of him in the trees). As we were all in our tents after an exhausting day of climbing I suddenly heard splashing (no, not the splashing from Naked Tom taking his nightly dip... this was different). I jumped out of my bivy and army-crawled up the slope until I could see across the lake... a herd of about 20 elk were there with babies washing off in the water. The elk ran up the mountain slope when they noticed me in my all bright blue polartec fleece outfit starring at them. It was truly unreal to see their climbing ability and balance on the scree slope of the mountain. Their ascent was obnoxiously loud with falling rocks and debris they kicked up. Later that night when it got pretty dark another herd of elk showed up, apparently unwarned by the previous group of our presence. I was able sneek a couple pics of them before they bolted off, this time bellowing our location to every other animal in the general area... I can't stress enough how amazing that section of the trail was, away from jeep roads, motors, and on beautifully maintained trails with well marked CDT plackards on the trees at all time. We no longer had any trouble following the CDT and my GPS track log was growing nicely.
Thursday we continued on high up in the mountains after waking up to frost on our tents. The views continued to be spectacular the whole day. Again, I urge you to click the title and watch a slideshow of the photos. Our plan was to continue on as far as we could so that we would have a short exit on Friday but the problem was finding a place near water for the night. Eventually we came across a beautiful lake at around 8,300 feet that was literally half dried up from the summer. A group of ducks calmly circled the lake all night ignoring our presence. We felt litterally "cupped" by the mountains on all sides where we were. Like setting up camp in the palm of a giant rocky hand. I tried to get water to purify but there were a billion little shrimp-looking bugs in the water which prevented me from getting a clear cup to purify so I used Aaron's water filter instead to fill up for the night. The bugs didn't prevent Tom from taking his nightly naked dip though! I then proceeded to pop my therm-a-rest but luckily Tom the chemist was there who ironically was the literal inventor of the glue used in the patch kit! So, in less than 10 minutes with the use of Cory's patch kit my pad was as good as new. Later we would find out Tom had invented all sorts of other things such as parts of the Platypus hydration system etc. I cooked up some Backpacker Pantry Pesto Salmon with my awesome new Jetboil only to find it tasted terrible (I've been keeping track of what dehydrated foods I like/dislike on the trip so that I can buy in bulk for the future). I then tried to wash it down with some apple crisp which was equally as bad... go figure. It was another beautiful (and cold) night under the stars with a beautiful sunrise as well.
Friday turned out to actually be a pretty long day. Tom had spent the week hiking on a recently sprained ankle and we had to descend from 9,000 feet to 5,800 then up another 1500 feet up a steep jeep trail filled with rock rubble. I was therefore very worried about how he would hold up despite taping his ankle for him two days prior. The descent followed along the steep sides of Pyramid Mountain down to a river drainage. The trail was not smooth and there was a lot of loose scree around but Tom seemed to manage just fine. Once in the river valley the climb up to the car seemed like a kick in the crotch after such a beautiful hike... It was up a horrible jeep trail with very poor footing and frankly it was really shitty. All of us thought it tainted the trip terribly. Thankfully it was just a 2 mile walk over a newly constructed hiking trail back to Tom's car. Unfortunately Tom's car couldn't handle the weight of all of us with gear so he had to shuttle Aaron and Cory to the road to hitch-hike then come back for me which took a good hour. Then Tom dropped me off Jackson Lodge to shuttle cars with Aaron and Cory and didn't get back until after 10pm. I thankfully had time to unpack, chuck garbage, eat a pork chop Skot (who now was working in the kitchen) gave me, and also soak in the spring along with an undergrad geology class from Calgary while sipping some deliciously cold brews and minding my VERY blistered toes.
Saturday was simply a very long, and hot drive back to Portland in Tom's un-airconditioned car. The fires had died down a lot and the smoke had cleared out of the valleys for the most part. On the way to Wisdom we encountered a cattle drive with some real cowboys on horses and dog wrangling the beasts down the center of the road. I was able to get a picture as we drove by. We took turns driving but my back always seemed to be soaked in sweat and stuck to his sheepskin seat covers. It was a great hike and I think we all worked well as a team in the woods. I learned that the CDT for the most part is mostly over jeep trails and 4x4 roads so I'm not to psyched to travel it myself but we did end up with one of the most beautiful sections on the whole divide. Throughout the entire week we found ourselves straddling the Idaho/Montana boarder which follows the divide there. I'm glad I was able to keep up with a bunch of Thru-hikers as well despite my massive blisters on my toes!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

MT Work week 3

    Well, another week has passed installing magnetotelluric stations throughout 1100183159_fde832c8e8_b
Washington.  Thankfully, the project has started to move into 1100157933_c0373cc27d_bthe Cascades and Western Washington away from the boring plains and hot weather of the East.  It has been difficult to work with Jeff
because he has a severe anger management problem, road rage, smokes, and is generally just an ass.  We have driven across the state twice this week and my days have been 13-15 hour long days of driving.  The field work is still relatively easy although I've had to keep an eye on Jeff 1100203617_94d591b554_bso 1101011512_11e2616f04_b
that I can fix his mistakes.  I'm not going to say a word to the other crew members but if I was in charge he would not be an employee of mine for sure.  Thankfully today I was set off on my own while he joined up with Trey to install sites.  It's nice to know that they find me competent enough to maintenance sites on my own.  Tomorrow 1101056230_814360756c_bI'll pick up a helper in Yakima named Joe Dean or something.
Hopefully he will be easier to work with than Jeff.  Because I've been 1100221305_0c67162108_bworking with Jeff I don't have any really interesting stories like I did while working with Jen.  Thus, I'll just post a bunch of
pictures with this blog entry of some of the cooler sites I saw.  The northern Cascades are truly beautiful to drive through with rivers and lakes glowing a blue green color due to the copper dissolved in the water that rusted
(think green statue 1100167217_5f4e7253f7_bof liberty).   I've seen a ton of deer, had lhamas try to stick their heads 1101062080_da94cf3546_bin the truck, got a glimpse of Mt. Baker in the clouds, got chased by some cows while trying to back out of a field, and I
took a ferry today from Seattle to Olympia.  I got so close to the deer in the picture that I was able to tell it a joke... enlarge the picture by clicking it to see it's reaction.
    Emily is off at wedding in a tropical paradise and I miss hearing her
voice.  I 1101061340_4d67ea4f4a_b
haven't even been able to properly call Nicolette to check in on Ellie1101070710_e348f5c0f1_b
either because I'm always out of cell phone range until it is too late to call the East Coast.  I'm going to be very happy to get a break this Friday to do some backpacking on the Continental Divide.  7 days a week for 4 weeks straight now has been tiring.  Anyway, enjoy the pics. 


Thursday, August 16, 2007

MT Work Week 4

Well, this is the night before my last day working in Washington with GSY doing this MT work. Tomorrow I head home to pack for my Continental Divide Trip. I'm getting a rental car in Olympia tomorrow then driving back Saturday morning to meet up with Tom Shimko from Tacoma for the hike. It hasn't been a very interesting week besides having a lhama run after me a bit. I've been working with an older guy who chews tobacco instead of that asshole Jeff. This guy is pretty nice but smells a little and the chewing all day long in the truck next to me is a bit gross. I'm glad I'm getting a break. Anyway, I accidentally deleted the few photos I took from this week so this will have to do... I'll touch base after my hike again.

Monday, August 6, 2007

MT Work Week 2

This is
the end of my 2nd week working with portable MT systems throughout
the Northwest. Each run is ~20 days
long. After 10 days Jen and I go to
service the site and then after another 10 days we remove it. Neither takes more than 2 hours but we have
to drive 2-5 hours between each site so the days are very long. We are lucky if we get to a motel before
8pm. So far most of the work I’ve been
doing has been in Eastern Washington. The land is pretty much all crops and high desert brush. The crops seem to be mostly hay and
wheat. Around Yakima there is a ton of
hops growing as well. I can’t tell you
how many tumbleweeds I’ve seen and massive 200-500 ft tall dust devils kicking
up the very dry soil into tornados without clouds. We have driven by many fires and landowners seem
to be genuinely really scared for their crops this year. They are very weary of our presence on their
land due to the catalytic converter of our unleaded truck that could catch a1023800873_cf73e9285c_b

field a blaze. It’s been so dry that
Minnesota has declared a federal  drought
disaster and most of the crops are lost. I’ve been here over two weeks now and I haven’t seen a cloud in the sky
in Eastern Washington! It’s hard to
believe from the dusty dirt we dig through that anything can grown on this land
but it does…1023874259_5cbd3587d2_b
amazingly, with the help of water from the great Columbia River
that flows all through the land in deep canyons cut into the high eastern
plateau. The ice age Missoula floods
that unleashed the waters from an ice-damned lake in Montana swept across
Eastern Washington to the sea. This lake
was much bigger than the great lakes are now and it deposited tons of nutrients
into the soils of Eastern Washington which accounts for the rich soils now out
here when water are added to them.

I feel
like I have driven every part of Eastern Washington now. The towns are all very small and positioned
in the middle of nowhere. You literally
drive over a hill… and boom, there’s a town tucked into some trees. Everyone must know everyone in these
towns… Halfway through the week Jen
and I had to drive all the way across the state to meet Trey outside of Seattle
and drop off the 4 portable arrays we had pulled out of the ground for him,
then drive all the way back the next day. We took a route through the cascades on the way back which had great
views of the high Cascades. On Tuesday
Jen and I were able to stay at Coulee Dam and1023889659_19b70ca93a_b
got to see the laser show on the
water pouring over the damn at 10pm. The
movie was totally propaganda for damming the Columbia. True it provides the most electricity of any
dam in the U.S. but it also flooded all the ancient fishing grounds of the
Native Americans in the area. This
resulted in entire nations starving to death or turning to booze and drugs to
ease their pain… The many dams now harnessing the power of the Columbia
resulted in the death of thousands and thousands of Native Americans… They touched on it in the movie but
certainly 1024701406_21a227cca9_b
didn’t portray the full extent of the casualties of the damn. The laser show itself was pretty cheesy and
the unicorn flying around halfway through for no reason had Jen and I cracking
up.  The next day we got to see the dam in the
daylight as well as some crop dusting planes flying around the local
crops. It was a massive dam and
definitely a feat of engineering to construct.

week we have seen a bunch of animals, insects, birds, etc.  One
we had a large red tail hawk sitting on a fence post curiously watching
us. We had a large fox run in front of
the truck at another site. Jen saw a coyote
up on a hill but I missed it. We1024676790_cc8a13fca1_b
also seen a ton of deer. They seem to be
at almost every wooded site we go to. Driving to one site we encountered a bunch of wild turkey in the road in
front of us. The silly birds began to
run in front of the truck and it 1023821001_5cf236aae4_b
seemed like more and more were joining the
marathon in front of the chase truck from the sides of the road. It was only after I honked a few times that
they decided to scatter into the woods. At one of the sites this week Jen and I were able to go swimming in both
a beautiful mountain river and in a local lake.

At the
end of the week Jen and I had to return to Yakima because she1024724012_2dbe2b2ba0_b finally was going
to get her much deserved two week break from the project. One of the last sites we went to had been
completely burned 1023878741_b0e2dab25b_bjust a week before Trey had
installed the site. It looked like a wasteland of charred
ground. Check out the picture of Jen
walking over the burned ground. It was
blatantly apparent why landowners are so worried about fires during these
months. On the way from the site we
encountered a
lost milking cow running down the side of the road. It had clearly broken out of a fenced in area
but when we pulled over and tried to get near 1023875743_ef17aaef53_bit to check its tags it ran away
and wouldn’t let us get near it. It was
pretty terrified. When we
got near
Yakima we drove into the remnants of a giant fire. The sky was black with smoke which was
traveling over the mountains with the wind patterns in a thin layer. The sun was setting through the smoke which
made it look like the sky was on fire.

Friday I got to work with my new partner… a 40yr old named Jeff. He apparently is getting paid more than me
because he’s an operator and I’m a field assistant yet I know more than he does
about what we are doing and have been teaching him since I met him. He is paid more because he has 10 years of
consulting experience but it’s clear he doesn’t know a thing about the science
behind the work. He seems nice enough I
guess but he smokes which is a worry to me out1024739930_9b37690789_b
in the fields in Eastern
Washington and I’ve already had to tell him to put his cig out and hide it when
landowners came up to us to chat at one site. He seems to have a blatant disregard for how Jen and I have been
proceeded with the sites and because he is best friends with Trey (who got him
the job) he thinks he can do things his way. This morning his actions pretty much told it all…. He had installed
Sirius satellite radio in the truck and was playing “sex talk” very loudly from
the truck as little kids were walking around the parking lot with their
parents. I reached in and turned it down
and told him about the kids… he said, “I don’t give a fuck” and turned it back
up… great… this is the kind of person I’m going to have to spend two full weeks
with… basically babysitting an immature 40yr man who will give GSY a bad
reputation. I forsee some personality
conflicts in the future. 

we drove to a site which had been chewed up by coyotes so we had to spend a
little time fixing it. On the way home
Jeff was driving like a complete asshole with road rage, gunning it all the
time. I was in the back of the truck
typing up directions for him because he doesn’t seem to be paying much
attention to what needs to be done in the field and I don’t have much
confidence in him as the 1023926701_a39aad3285_b
operator of the NIMS… funny that I’m getting paid less
yet teaching him how to do it. Anyway,
we get pulled over because he had doubled the speed limit and was tailgating the
car in front of us. This was all amusing
to me. On the way home we drove1023915983_84b4fe9f7e_b
Rainier National park and took some unbelievable pictures of the massive
volcano. I asked Jeff to pull over about
3 times while he ignored me so when he actually did I decided to go for a walk…
all the way back down the road to get the photos I had wanted. I told him “if I’m too long come and get me”
which he did. I can’t wait to climb Mt.
Rainier. Maybe next summer.

you’ve actually read this far… good for you. I’ll post another update next week. I’m looking forward to my Continental Divide trip on the 18th
and I can’t wait to see Emily again when I head back to NY for my cousin Erin’s
wedding. I’ve been pretty much saving
all my per diem for a new MacBook Pro this fall. I’ve been eating soups and stealing all the
fruit and muffins from the hotels for my lunches. J. Talk to you next week!