Friday, December 7, 2007

Shoulder Season

Our days for the past couple of months have been dictated by weather. If the wind was not blowing, and the skies were not crying, then we laced up our hiking boots and were out the door early to explore a new place in our backyard. This is the shoulder season – the time after Labor Day and before the snows of winter – when the tourists are gone, the streets are quiet, and it feels like the most sparsely populated county in California that it is.

This shoulder season was a long one. Despite some small storms in October that dusted the higher elevations, it wasn’t until last night that we received our first major snowfall. This is a great relief to the local economy, which depends greatly on the visitors that come and ski. It might be a White Christmas after all.

Here is a photo album of some of our favorite images from the last couple of months…

View looking east to June Lake Loop from the unoffically-named peak "Little Middle". Early season snow highlights the ski runs of the June Mountain Ski Area.

Vibrant autumn colors in Lee Vining Canyon, mid-October.

View of Mono Lake, looking east from the summit of Koip Peak.

A rare, graceful arch in the quartz monozonite of Yosemite, on the trail to North Dome.

Steelhead Lake, looking south towards Tioga Pass, on our way down from Shepard Crest.

Weathered stump in the pumice gravel of Glass Mountain.

Sculpted ice that was once a flowing stream emanating from Mildred Lake, Yosemite National Park.

Twisted roof pendant in Convict Canyon on December 5, just a couple of days before the big snow.

The view out our window this afternoon.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

An Oregon Coast Photo Album

Have you every read a good book really slow -- savoring phrases, and re-reading those that resonate? Or how about eating Peanut M&M's one at a time, sucking on them until the candy coating dissolves, and the chocolate melts as a creamy coating on your tongue? I wish I had more time for the first, and I gave up the second long ago. But we found a new thing to do slow -- traveling by bicycle -- which is pleasurable in its own way.

We cycled from Portland, Oregon to Klamath Falls, Oregon, starting in late August. We covered 750 miles in 16 days, with a couple of extra days of rest. We were fully self-contained, with sleeping bag, tent, and food stashed in some really nice panniers. We headed northwest from Portland to Astoria (about as far north as you can get in the state), and south along Highway 101 until we reached the border of California just north of Crescent City. We left the ocean and crossed the Coast Ranges to Ashland then on to Klamath Falls. We are new to bike touring (except for one overnighter), and with a significant investment in equipment we were anxious to see if it suited us.

When traveling by bike, subtle changes in temperature and wind speed and direction are fully experienced. One can't help notice things about the road often hardly perceived in a car -- the width of the shoulder, the quality of the pavement, the grade, and roadkill. At about 50 miles a day, enough ground is covered to have a memory bank full of images by the end of the day. We cycled through many small towns -- some quaint, some a bit depressed -- but in each we were welcomed and drawn into conversation with locals. On a bike, the barrier shell of an automobile is gone, and people want to know where you have come from, where you are going, and are open to share the best of their part of the world.

Below are a few images from our trip, with some commentary. Also a trio of videos -- riding the train, John cruising, and me rolling along. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed our adventure.

We drove our truck to Klamath Falls, stopping in Reno to pick up some bike boxes from the Amtrak station. We continued on to Klamath Falls, where our plan was to board the train and ride it to Portland. The afternoon before our departure we packed the bikes in the boxes at our campsite, just to make sure everything fit and be ready for departure time.

Very soon after leaving Portland we were in the countryside, passing farmhouses and fields of corn. A short stretch of bike trail outside of Vernonia was lined with apple trees and blackberry bushes.

We stopped often to pick berries throughout our trip, growing wild along the road. John at one point exclaimed "we are surrounded by food".

We reached the coast on Labor Day weekend. Inland Oregonians flocked to the coast, baring their white limbs to the sun, soaking up their annual Vitamin D requirement. This beach outside of Manzanita was pockmarked with their footprints at the end of the day.

Good weather was our fortune during most of the trip. The coastline was a series of ups and downs -- up over the "heads", where the views were spectacular, and down to sea level. This view is looking north from Cape Lookout.

John riding in the fog on a particulary lush stretch of road.

Can you say "fun Fun, FUN"?

Lighthouses from early in the century dot the coastline. Many are still operational, but most are historical structures that are open to the public. Heceta Head Lighthouse is spectacularly situated on a cliff jutting out into the sea.

The glass windows at the top of Heceta Head Lighthouse.

We were unaware when we started that the Oregon Coast is one of the premier bike routes in the country. Oregon is kind to cyclists, and the entire route was signed with well-marked and generally generous shoulders. We stayed in Oregon State Park campgrounds nearly every night. Most had a area designated for hikers and bikers, separate from the main campground and their campfires and generators. Other campers arriving by motorized vehicle must reserve months in advance for beachside sites, while we arrived and were assured a campsite without reservation at a mere cost of $4 per person. We enjoyed a hot shower every night, a welcome luxury on those late afternoons when it was cold and damp.

John walking his bike over the McCullough Memorial Bridge north of Coos Bay. The bridge was over one mile long, and due to no shoulder, and cyclists are required to walk across. We were able to ride over all bridges along the route, other than this one. But it was often a nerve-racking experience, since motorists had to wait behind us, or tried to pass with minimal buffer.

Roses at Shore Acres State Park, a botanical garden situated on the cliffs south of Coos Bay.

Morning light on seamounts south of Bandon.

A typical lunch -- Tillamook cheese and artisan bread. We only ate out a couple of times on the trip, but we did seek out local bakeries. I still salivate at the thought of the tangy whole wheat sourdough bread we bought in Nye Beach....

Leaving the coast, we spent a night in California's Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park, a place that evokes nothing but awe.

Once we left Ashland and climbed the 4,000 feet over the mountains, we were out of the coastal-influenced landscape of lush green and free blackberries. The golden rolling foothills were quite a contrast from the landscape of the last couple of weeks.

The loop was closed with our return to Klamath Falls. We got home fueled by petroleum instead of bread, cheese and berries.

Friday, August 10, 2007

7 ½ Percent Is My Limit

Steepness is subjective. Say you are driving a sports car with enough power to go over 100 mph without breaking a sweat. Any uphill grade may not even require you to shift to a lower gear. Even John’s old Toyota Corolla, with more miles on the odometer than from here to the moon, could transport us with relative ease up any hill. But try it on a bicycle loaded with enough gear, food, and water for an overnight trip, with only your granola breakfast for fuel, and anything short of level ground elevates the pulse.

For months our new bike touring gear has been sitting in the corner of the living room, still in its original packaging. Life’s interruptions delayed our plans to put it to use in Europe this summer. But John finally got out the racks and panniers and mounted them on our bikes. We were going on a road trip.

Our usual optimistic outlook was a bit dampened once the panniers were on the bikes. The bikes were now heavy – noticeably harder to lift. And that was without anything in them. We filled them up with our camping gear, balanced them appropriately, and went to bed with a bit of uncertainty about being able to propel them forward.

Our plan was to do a 100-mile loop – down to Mammoth, then east at the Green Church to Benton Hot Springs, camp overnight, and then head home via Highway 120 the next day. Heading out we had our first grade out of June Lake Junction over Deadman’s Pass. This was the first time either of us have ridden a fully loaded bike, and hey, this ain’t so bad – the bike actually rolls along just fine.

Most of the morning was down hill or flat. Towards noon we were well into the desert – sagebrush as big as cars, a herd of sheep accompanied only by a donkey and a barking dog, less than one car per hour passing us by. We started hitting grades, and our pace slowed down considerably. It gives one lots of opportunity to examine debris on the side of the road – lots of bungee cords (minus a hook), a comb, the lid of an ice chest, coyote droppings at regular intervals.

By the time we reached the turnoff to Benton Hot Springs, we had clocked 57 miles. We found a suitable campsite, but we were out of water. We had never been here before, and did not realize the hamlet was another three miles down the road. Not a problem, as we whizzed past the warning sign saying “7 ½ % downhill grade next three miles”. It was getting late, and we passed on a dip in the hot tubs. We did stop at the local B&B, asking for permission to fill our water bottles. The proprietor said we could fill up, but all the water in town was hot water. She pointed to the fridge and said she had cold water for sale. We said hot water would be fine…we found it to be tepid, and good tasting. Some of the best quality water in the State, so we have been told.

So, with an extra 20 pounds of fluid, we proceeded up that 7 ½ percent grade. John was able to maintain a 4-5 mile per hour pace. I was just barely topping 3 ½. By the time I caught up with him, I was out of breath, and needed a full five minutes to get to the point where I could talk. We hauled our bags, then our bikes, a couple of hundred yards up a sandy wash. We were spent, and saved the energy of setting up the tent to sleep in the open under the desert sky made cloudy by the brightness of the Milky Way.

The next day was also a blur of sagebrush and steep grades. As we reached familiar territory near Mono Craters, we were cooled by a breeze that turned into a steady headwind by the time we turned onto the June Lake Loop. We had to pedal to go downhill. Parched, butt-sore, and rubber-legged, we made it home.

A day has passed, and with time all things heal. The final consensus? Actually, it is just like regular bike riding, just slower (way slower). And you can cover a good distance, yet go at a pace where you can see and feel the landscape around you. And people are so supportive – we got at least two thumbs-up and several honks of approval along the way. It is actually kind of fun…I think we might just try it again soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Top Ten List of Best Things About the Backcountry

Note: We finally got away from the cell phone on a six-day backpacking trip. We did a loop starting at Twin Lakes, over Buckeye Pass, through Paiute Meadows, along Tilden Lake, up Kerrick Canyon, and over Rock Island Pass to Crown Lake, and back to the trailhead. Nothing much other than lots of walking and picture taking. And some ruminating about…

10. Full moons – who needs a flashlight on those midnight nature calls.

9. Full body awareness – especially the feet, knees, and hipbones.

8. EVERYTHING tastes good – even dried tortellini and instant rice. I get to eat all those things I never allow myself at home – trail mix, peanut butter, Mom’s homemade strudel that has been in the freezer since John’s birthday.

7. Two words – skinny dips.

6. Solitude – it can be easily attained by hiking just a few miles from any trailhead.

5. Meeting the nicest people – hey, they are usually on vacation, happy, and like to do the same things you do. The possibility of meeting an ax murderer on the trail, 30 miles from civilization, is pretty remote.

4. Quiet – so deep it almost hurts. And if there is noise, it is the sound of the wind through trees as it comes towards you, or the sound of a bird, or thunder in the distance.

3. No news – no updates on Iraq.

2. Fresh air – every meal is ‘al fresco’.

1. It beats anything on TV.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Up for Air

The human body is an amazing system of equilibrium. The lungs take in air, and pull it into increasingly small passages that terminate in tiny, bubble-shaped alveoli. Here equally tiny blood vessels adjacent to the alveoli transport oxygen-poor blood. At a molecular level oxygen diffuses through cell walls, from the higher concentration in alveoli to the lower concentration in the blood. Red blood cells gather up the oxygen, and take it to the other tissues and organs in the body that need it – to digest lunch, to concentrate on a crossword puzzle, to bike up a hill.

This process came to mind as we were climbing up an unnamed peak in the Sierra, somewhere near 12,000 feet above sea level. We were going up a steep slope of boulders and coarse scree -- not unlike a Stairmaster, but add loose rocks and gusts of wind. Sometimes my body would need an extra boost, and I would take a deep breath, or stop briefly to catch my breath. With this brief renewal, I could continue on.

I was thinking how, if the system is working properly, that just a deep breath is enough to keep things in equilibrium. How if the system is not working, many deep breaths may not be enough. I was thinking of my mother-in-law, lying in a hospital bed 300 miles south of the peak I was scaling, breathing at a rate twice what is normal, even with an oxygen mask. How just something as small as a fragment of a blood clot, loosened from its origin in her leg, could travel to those tiny passages in her lungs, and prevent air from reaching the delicate tissues where oxygen could be transferred to the blood of life.

We were rewarded with a panoramic view – we could see the rounded batholiths of Yosemite to the north, the forest fire haze in the Mono Basin to the east, the craggy peaks of Ritter and Banner to the south, and the rest of the Sierra wilderness to the west. We headed down to spend the night at a campsite along a creek, one of the most beautiful I can remember. And we slept soundly, tired from our exertion, but our bodies are healthy and we are renewed by morning.

But Mom will need time to dissolve the clots, and will need to take medications to keep her blood thin for the rest of her life. And we will continue to embrace our youth, keep our bodies healthy to keep the system working, so we can reach many more summits.

Top Photo: View from our campsite in the Marie Lakes Basin.

Bottom Photo: View looking east from an an unnamed peak, with Marie Lakes in the foreground, and Waugh Lake in the distance.

Video: Water leaving Upper Marie Lake.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Thunder, Lightning, Fire, Rain

I could only make out a few of the words of robotic voice coming from the weather radio. John was in the kitchen preparing breakfast, and as is his habit, listening to the day’s forecast. “Thunderstorms…lightning…afternoon…higher elevations…” An ominous prognostication, and what better to do on a day like this but to go for a hike?

Our destination was Cloud's Rest (9,926’), the highest peak in proximity to Yosemite Valley and east of Half Dome. The trailhead is just west of Tuolumne Meadows, a mere 45 minutes from our front door (we still can’t get over that). We were hiking by 8 am, with the thought we could beat the forecast. A moderate hike in elevation gain (approximately 2,000’ gain) and more moderate in distance (seven miles one-way). We made good time, prodded perhaps by the vigilant mosquitoes in the marshy areas. By 11 am we were at the top, picking out high points in the distance, taking pictures, chatting with our fellow summiteers. We could not help but notice the building clouds, since they made taking sunlit pictures of Half Dome difficult. We decided to eat our lunch in a less exposed place, and descended to the ridge below.

As we began the hike back, the clouds became grayer, and to the south they had a streaky, dripping look. We kept moving, and soon flashes were seen to the south. Counting the seconds from when we saw the flash to when we heard the thunder, we judged it to be 10 miles away. The flashes and rumbles continued, the time gap rapidly closing between the two. Soon one drop, then another, and we were soon running to the nearest tree with generous branches. The remainder of the hike was this hide-and-seek game of finding shelter during the downpours. But it is an exhilarating to be in the middle of weather – the sound of the thunder passing overhead, the lightning flashes, the wind as the cell passes, the fresh smell of rain on the dusty trail.

As we drive down Tioga Pass towards home, the clouds to the southeast looked peculiarly brown. We guessed a fire, but where? As we reached Highway 395, we could see towards June Lake, and there a plume rising from the sagebrush plain. A section of Highway 395 was closed, and all traffic was being detoured on the June Lake Scenic Loop. A lightning strike at June Lake Junction started a fire, and all motor homes, semis, and Harleys were being diverted through our little town, on the main drag just a few tens of feet from our front door. We could see the smoke rising from the kitchen window, just two miles from home. The wind shifted late in the evening, blowing up canyon towards town. We closed all the windows for the night to keep and traffic noise out. Luck was on the firefighter’s side – the clouds yielded rain early the next morning, and by late afternoon the highway was reopened.

We have since passed through the fire area, and burnt stands of trees and sagebrush straddle the highway. Fire trucks are still roaming the area, putting out the last embers. The blackened remnants of the trees will be around for many years to come, a reminder of a day of extreme weather. It can be a delight when you are safe, but the consequences may be less so somewhere else, where you are not.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

In Loving Memory

Note: My father-in-law, Arnold Reilly, passed away on June 14, 2007. As a tribute, my husband John and his sister Joan wrote this brief history of his life.

Arnold John Reilly was born on December 18, 1921 in Lone Rock, Iowa. He was the last of four sons born to Edward and Elizabeth Reilly. Edward Reilly was born in 1862 during the Civil War and didn’t get married until he was 52. Arnold’s dad was 60 when he was born. Arnold’s great-grandparents left Ireland during the potato famine on a ship bound for New York. Unfortunately, bad weather blew the ship off course and caused supplies to run out. Arnold’s great-grandparents both died on the journey, but their two sons survived as the ship eventually landed in New Orleans. Arnold grew up on the family farm and struggled like the rest of the country during the Great Depression. When Arnold was 7, his mother passed away. When Arnold was 12, a serious accident, involving a wagon, a team of horses and his father placed full responsibility of the farm in the hands of the four sons.

As Arnold approached the age of 20, U.S. involvement in the Second World War came to be. One by one, Uncle Sam took Louie, Phil, and Bernard to little known corners of the world such as Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Telelui. The care of his disabled father and 80 acres of farmland fell solely into the hands of the youngest son. A couple of years later, when his oldest brother, Louie came home on fallen arches, Arnold, realizing the draft board would be calling him soon, signed on with the Merchant Marines and was sent to New York. Shortly after, personnel cutbacks led to a discharge and a ticket back home.

In February 1945, Arnold’s father passed away. The day after his father died Arnold received a personal letter from Harry Truman notifying him that he had been drafted. Arnold was sent to boot camp in Arkansas and then it was on to Fort Lewis in Washington State. One day an announcement was made asking if anyone could type. Nobody volunteered because of rumors among servicemen that you never want to volunteer for anything. A few days later on one miserably cold, wet morning, the now regular announcement asking if anyone could type was made. Arnold thought what could be worse than standing in the miserable Northwest rains. He volunteered. With his typing talents, Arnold got a clerical job in the office at the base. Arnold prepared the daily reports which kept track of every soldier, AWOL or not. Training that helped him prepare for a 9 to 5 job later on in life. A year and a half later, Arnold’s division was called to duty overseas. As fate would have it, a severe case of strep throat left Arnold hospitalized and in the states he remained. Shortly after recovering, Arnold was honorably discharged and headed back home once again.

Arnold and Louie decided to “have a go” at hog farming. Their first two years were successful and they reinvested their profits in more inventory, more pigs. Unfortunately, the price for pork plummeted the following year and devastated them. Louie eventually moved into sales while Arnold decided to make a bigger move. Phil had resettled in Woodland Hills, California and encouraged Arnold to move out of Iowa. Arnold lived with Phil and his family for a short while until he landed a job with Southern California Edison. Arnold moved to Long Beach near the Edison steam power generating plant, where he would begin his career with the company.

Arnold stayed connected to the Catholic Church and got involved with the churches’ singles club where he met a secretary named LaVerne Sangl. Arnold knew he was in love with LaVerne as they danced to the song “Blue Suede Shoes.” On May 4, 1957, Arnold and LaVerne tied the knot. They moved into LaVerne’s small house in Compton with LaVerne’s mother Rose. Within two years, the house was occupied by five people with the addition of a son, John, and daughter, Diana. Arnold and LaVerne began looking for a larger place. Edison offered Dad two locations to relocate to, one in Etiwanda and the other in Ventura. Arnold chose Etiwanda and decided to buy a house on a soon to be built housing track in Upland. In 1963, the house was finished and the family moved in. In 1967, another daughter, Joan, was born and the family was complete.

Arnold worked as a control operator at Southern California Edison’s steam generation plant in Etiwanda. The job required him to work various shifts changing every two weeks – a day shift, a swing shift and a graveyard shift. He did this for most of his 28 year career with Edison.

Arnold was a wonderful father. Every summer, Arnold would take the family on the road to somewhere in the US. Arnold loved sports. Growing up we saw the Dodgers, the Angels, the Kings, the Lakers, the Rams, and the Summer Olympics. He was always there whenever something big was going on in any of our lives, such as swim meets, graduations, beauty pageants, basketball, or softball games. Arnold loved the circus and took us every year it came to town. With unwavering support, he managed to find a way to put all three of his children through college. He bought each one of them a car. And when it was time for each one of them to leave the nest he provided the means to allow each one of them to get their lives started on their own.

In 1983, Arnold’s first daughter Diana married Michael Bissiri. And in 1988, Arnold became a proud grandfather when Diana gave birth to a son, Matthew. In 1992, Diana gave birth to a daughter, Megan. In 1997, Arnold’s son John married Doris Brukner. And in 2002, Arnold would finally see his youngest daughter, Joan, marry Michael Armstrong.

At age 62, Arnold retired from Southern California Edison and over the next 21 years, Arnold and La Verne embarked on 25 various cruises around the world which allowed Arnold to accomplish his life long dream. “To see the world before he died.”

Arnold began having health problems in his late 70’s and early 80’s. By the end of 2005, Arnold realized that taking care of the house was becoming too much for him. After a visit to Valencia Commons, an independent retirement community in Rancho Cucamonga, living at the Commons proved to be ideal, giving Arnold a chance to relax since the facility provided three square meals a day and housecleaning. Arnold put their names on the waiting list and it wasn’t long until he received a call telling him that they could move in. Arnold and LaVerne then began the daunting task of cleaning out a house that had acquired 42 years of stuff. The kids and their spouses pitched in as well, sold off a few items such as an extra car and cleared out the rest in a massive garage sale, in late March of 2006. Arnold frequently described his new home as paradise and was truly happy there.

In January 2007 Arnold came down with a bad case of the flu and was unable to take his medications for a few days. On January 21, 2007 Arnold had a major stroke that paralyzed his left arm and left leg. For a couple of months he was making slow but steady progress until he had another stroke. Arnold had also developed congestive heart failure.

On May 4, 2007, the immediate family celebrated as best they could, Arnold and LaVerne’s 50th wedding anniversary at the hospital. A slide show of selected photos from Arnold’s collection, from 1957 to 1978, was shown. Wow, 50 years -- they made it!

On June 14, 2007, Arnold passed away at age 85. Arnold was a very strong man that gave so much and never asked for anything in return. Arnold will be missed by everyone who knew him.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Cactus Flower

The mobile home park where Mom and Dad live is an interesting place. It is located at the eastern end of Hemet, a town itself located on the eastern outskirts of the greater Los Angeles metropolis. In the 1960’s Hemet made a transformation from mostly a citrus-growing region to a retirement community dominated by mobile home parks. Arroyo Fairways was one of the parks built in this era, and most lots still have heirloom citrus trees – oranges, lemons, and grapefruit – producing prodigious amounts of fruit during the winter months. Another unique feature of the park is a 9-hole golf course snaking along the creek bed (“arroyo”) adjacent to the park, irrigated to a green splendor by a well located at one corner of the property. Each morning residents can be seen putting along on the manicured greens.

Also within the park are some heirloom cacti, undoubtedly as old as the park. On our last visit a particularly large individual was in full bloom, with 50 or more flowers that opened up to the morning light. The blossoms were eight to ten inches in diameter, and a magnet for bees that just seemed to bathe in the nectar. It has been a week since these photographs were taken, and the temperature in Hemet is in the 90’s today. My guess is that the blooms have withered in the heat, an ephemeral event which we were lucky to witness.

6/15/2007 Cactus update -- we pulled in for a visit, and the cactus is gone, along with the mobile home next to it. All is left is barren earth, a virgin substrate for the next generation of manufactured housing and landscaping.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Email and Feeds

You can now add Go See Do to your RSS feeder, or sign up to have emails sent to you when a new blog is posted. Look on the sidebar on the right near the bottom for the appropriate links.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Half Dome is Better Than No Dome

There is this concept of a “life list” – things to experience, places to go, or things to do before you die. I can’t say that I have a formal list, but it seems that once we do something really neat, I realize it was on my “list”. Retire in my forties – check; ride my bike over 100 miles in a day – check; experience deep and everlasting love – check. Last week we did another life list experience – climbing Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

If there is any image that is iconic of Yosemite, it is Half Dome. It is also a symbol of California itself, its likeness printed on special license plates throughout the state. A rounded batholith with half of it broken off, hanging 5,000 feet over Yosemite Valley. Visitors can see it from many angles, from Glacier Point to the southwest, from Olmsted Point to the east, and straight up from the valley floor. If you possess great athletic ability and advanced rock climbing skills you can scale it straight up that vertical fractured north face. Having neither, the only way I was going to get to the top was via the cables the National Park Service installs each spring up the east face.

Strung something like 300 yards along the shoulder of the dome, the cables allow hikers to ascend the 50 degree slope to the top. There is a pair of cables, held up by metal posts spaced at about 120 foot intervals. Wooden slats rest against the uphill side of each pair of posts, and provide a relatively secure footing compared to the granitic surface polished by thousands of hikers. At the base of the cables is a pile of dozens of pairs of work gloves, left behind for the benefit of those of us who did not even think to bring some, to better get a grip on the smooth metal in those places where it literally required pulling you body weight up to the next step.

And all this after hiking eight miles. We got an early start and were hoisting ourselves up by just after noon for lunch at the top. The day we went was the first day the cables were up – they are removed from the posts and left on the ground during the winter. There were only a few people ascending and descending when we started up. Looking up before we started, it seemed those on the line were stopped, not moving. After going a hundred feet or so, I realized why – it was very tiring, and I was sucking wind, even with frequent rests. I liked the feeling of having hands on cables at all times, spread-eagle with one hand on a cable on each side, which of course had to be compromised when passing others on their way down.

Reaching the top was exhilarating. The top was broad, the size of several football fields. We munched our lunch on the edge of the north face, looking down on the pastoral green of Yosemite Valley. Littered about were the bodies of our fellow hikers in horizontal repose, napping in the sun after the exertion required to get to the top. This hike seems to be a rite of passage for many, and the lack of experience, equipment, and training were evident. But at least for the people we talked to, they were thrilled to get up, and even more thrilled to be down. A man and his 8-year-old son followed me on the way down the cables. I climbed down ladder-style, looking up. They chose to come down facing down, with a death grip on the cables and equally clenched teeth. I would periodically hear a kind of sliding sound, which ended when they stopped up against the wood slat with a thud. I just hoped they wouldn’t gain more momentum than the wooden slats could bear. They were so excited when they reached the flats at the bottom, and the elder man stated “I did it, and I don’t ever have to do it again.”

After another eight miles back to the car, we got back just as evening shadows fell on the valley. A treat on this hike is that it passes Vernal Falls, probably the most popular hike in Yosemite. The trail is paved near the bottom because of the impact of hikers and pack animals. But it is beautiful place to see the Merced River cascading down on its way, like us, to the Yosemite Valley floor.

Top Photo: Stairway to Heaven
Second Photo: View looing east towards Olmsted Point from the top.
Third Photo: John beginning the descent.
Bottom Photo: Vernal Falls and Half Dome in the evening light.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Spring Thaw

Last Friday the western section of Highway 120, also known as the Tioga Road, opened to through traffic. Originating in the east near Lee Vining and leading to Yosemite Valley, it is one of those spectacular roads, where as a driver you envision a lapse in attention would catapult you over the edge. It is closed in winter, opening in the spring, usually before Memorial Day. This year, due to dry conditions, it opened a bit earlier than in recent years.

On the Thursday prior to the opening we drove up to the gate at the top of Tioga Pass, unloaded our bikes, and did a 36-mile round trip, passing through Tuolumne Meadows to Olmsted Point. Since it was closed to traffic, we only had to share the road with other cyclists and a few Park Service vehicles. Unfortunately, I forgot the camera, so there are no photos to prove it, and no blog entry dedicated to the ride.

We returned, however, on the following Saturday, the day after opening of the road. We accompanied our friends Dick and Judy on a hike that has become an annual event for them. Parking the car along the road across from Fairview Dome, we cross-country hiked until we met with the trail that drops down into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. Along this trail the Tuolumne River drops dramatically in elevation over the slick batholithic rocks. The river was at full flow, fed by the melting snows in the watershed.

Our goal was Water Wheel Falls, but we passed a number of dramatic cascades along the way, with the names Tuolumne, California (top photo), and Le Conte. It was not hard to anticipate that they were near due to the roar in the distance. The power of the water created frothy foam that swirled in marbled patterns in calmer sections of the river (second photo). We paused at each of the falls along the way, mesmerized by the motion of surging water. Water Wheel Falls was by far the most dramatic, with rooster tails over 30 feet high…click here for a video of the action

We were racing the setting sun on our way back, the cost of gazing at flowing water for a bit too long. The mist of Tuolumne Falls created a faint rainbow as we passed it on our return home (bottom photo). What a nice transition from winter skiing to summer hiking and biking.

Thanks D and J for letting us come along!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Passionate Fishes

How one spends their free time often becomes a passion. For us, it is skiing, guitars, and artisan bread. For others it is fishing. And the third weekend in April is opening weekend for fishing here in the Eastern Sierra, and coming to June Lake is a pilgrimage for some. For 34 years, Ernie’s, the sport shop just steps from our front door, owned and operated by our landlord, has sponsored the Trout Derby. This contest adds the element of competition to a sport whose participants have already become heavily invested in rods, boats, and clothing dominated by a camouflage motif. These folks really love to fish. And apparently they love beer, too.

Our little town, sleepy all winter, has come alive. Motor homes and trucks towing boats were arriving into town as early as Thursday. The campgrounds, vacant all winter, were fully occupied. Neon lights of the local restaurants were lit, beaconing hungry sportsman. Friday morning we came home from a morning ski, to find a 10-foot pile of snow in our driveway. Posters and banners advertising things like Monster Bait were everywhere. Apparently snow is trucked to this spot every year for the Derby, and it is here that the contenders for Biggest Fish are stored until the awards ceremony on Saturday night.

All day on Saturday the pile of snow was the hub of activity. Country music blared from Ernie’s, and fishermen with cans of beer wrapped in neoprene sleeves milled about. We hid out until the evening festivities, and then joined the crowd for the prize giveaway. A raffle giving away fishing rods was held. I overheard one guy comment that he didn’t need to win one of those -- his wife counts the rods when he leaves the house, and counts them when he comes back, and if there are any extras she takes them to the curb on garbage day. The Derby awards were handed out. There were lots of categories – biggest fish from June Lake, biggest from Gull Lake, biggest caught by a kid, biggest caught by a local, etc. It took awhile. The biggest fish overall was something like 8 pounds, 5 ounces – that’s a big fish. The winner got the equivalent of $1,000 in certificates to spend at local businesses in June Lake – not bad.

Things have quieted down during the week, but weekends are still busy. Thanks to those folks who love to fish, the local economy has picked up, to the relief of the local business who suffered through one of the driest winters on record. We are just glad there isn’t a fish derby every weekend.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A 50th Anniversary

John has spent some isolated time in the office recently, working on a special project. Every once in a while I hear the strains of some acoustical guitar music coming from the computer speakers.

Next week is a special anniversary for John’s parents – their 50th wedding anniversary. Over the last few months he has been scanning photos from the family photo collection, and putting them together into a slide show, complete with mood music. Originally we thought it would be the highlight of a fancy dinner party at a hotel with friends and family. It is a bit bittersweet that we will only be able share it with John’s Mom and Dad running on our laptop perched on the dinner tray of the rehabilitation facility that is Dad’s current home. And also that John’s mother will only remember some of the events chronicled through the hazy envelope of dementia.

Seeing these old photos, from John’s birth to the ruffled tuxedo of the senior prom, has given me some insight into the circumstances that formed the character of my husband. Take a look at the photo above as an example. Taken in 1970 in the grassy median of downtown Ontario, California, John and his sister Diana performed as the duo “The Now Sound” at a Kiwanis pancake breakfast. My understanding is the sound was pop music, perhaps featuring some Beatles. Obviously the two women in the foreground are grooving to it, big time.

John’s parents were generous, providing music lessons for their children. John’s mother, always looking for a return on an investment, would find gigs – church socials, community events, etc. She even got some paying jobs, at about the same time that Diana lost interest in music, which Mom never forgave her for. But music stayed a part of John’s life, and with an epiphany upon first hearing the rock group Yes, he continues to this day to perfect his craft. Some of my most contented moments are while working in the office, hearing the strums of his guitar in the other room, knowing he is doing something he loves.

So John will share his digital photo album with the family, and the memories will be as special for us as it is for his parents.

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All original text and photos are copyrighted Doris Reilly © 2006-2018. No part of the content or the blog may be reproduced without prior written permission.
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