it’s why we do it

“I’m a little nervous about this one,” says Lance as we push the the raft off the bank.

Yeah, me too, I tell him.  Downstream was the horizon line to Boulder Drop–a class IV/V rapid on the Skykomish River.  A series of three large moves, the route through means threading several large boulders, skirting thundering holes of whitewater, and  being spit out the other end.


“I guess this is why we do this, right?”  Lance laughs as we start to set up for the line.

And he’s right–isn’t that why most of who venture outside do anything?  To test our grit and to see what we’re made of?  In truth, Boulder Drop isn’t a rapid that’s going to silence a bar when you announce you’ve run it.  It’s not a bus eater that only the infinitely skilled or certifiably crazy attempt; it’s just another stretch of whitewater, a bit more technical than most.  But the first time you run it, it scares the shit out of you, and that’s the point.


It doesn’t really matter how big the rapid is; it’s how big it seems to you when you’re bent over, hands on the tube, just staring at the horizon line. Reviewing the route in your head.  Thinking about all the different ways your limbs could bend or your lungs could fill with water.  Because in your head this is huge, and it’s at that moment it becomes a monster, and it’s at that moment you decide if you’re going to scrub it.  But if you can break the paralysis that holds, shake off the fear that wants to keep you safely on the bank, and charge at it with everything you can, you’ve already won.  Maybe you’ll stick it, or maybe you’ll take a nasty swim–but you made the decision to bet on yourself, your ability, and your partner in the boat with you, and that’s the real battle right there; sticking the landing is just icing on the cake.

Despite a little scare at the beginning, it was all icing.  

Lance was right.


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fall enchantments overnight: the season ain’t over!

A steep-at-times 8-mile hike located 2.5 hours from Seattle, The Enchantments trail is still notoriously popular in the fall—but don’t let the cars of dayhikers discourage your overnight plans.

If the weather is clear and you’ve got the gear, have a go! A winter tent might be nice if you get a little wind off the lake like we did–and be sure to bring an extra layer, gloves, and a good sleeping bag/pad. And there are no fires above 5000’, so bring the hot chocolate.

Distance from Seattle: 2.5hours
Trail length: ~8mi loop
Gear: Warm layers, hot drinks, gloves, and possible winter tent.
Extras: Fishing pole: No luck at Coldchuck this time, but Stewart and Horseshoe have yet to disappoint on trout.
On the drive: Sultan Bakery on the way out. Prospector’s on the way back. Duh.


first views of colchuck

first views of colchuck


As the days get shorter and alpine swimming becomes less invigoration and more hypothermia, the appeal of overnight camping drops—particularly when there isn’t snow to justify dealing with tingly fingers.

But fear not, because you have a down bag, a sense of adventure, and a need to leave the city—which is what I told myself when I looked into a fall Enchantments trip.

A great thing about the PNW is that there are always active people everywhere; a problem with the PNW is that there are always active people everywhere. Patting myself on the back for the original idea of hitting the Enchantments in the offseason I began to look at trail reports to vet conditions—apparently this would be a great time to see spectacular view and fall colors. But there were a lot of reports; this was not close to an original idea.

The car-choked trailhead on Saturday morning made my heart drop. Originally, we had planned on heading to Stewart Lake, making camp, and then taking daypacks up to Horseshoe Lake–a dollop of high-alpine water stocked with trout and brimming with curious goats.

Unfortunately my plantar fasciitis was raging and at the 2.5mi fork in the trail we opted to head to the more-dramatic Colchuck Lake, scrapping the higher ascent. Continue reading

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peshastin creek pounding

Neils is a better boater than I am.  This is obvious, but as he yanks on the front of my inflatable kayak, turns away from shore, and strokes into the current, I try to remind myself that his being exceptional does not affect my being adequate–my mantra as the kayak bucks over rocks and along the current.  The creek is fast.

I’d been on the Wenatchee today at record height (in my experience) of about 15.5k.  An average summer run will swell between 7-12k—plenty of water for holes and big hits, but the warm weather and recent rains had bumped up river levels to a point where guides were muttering “17 grand” in superstitious tones.  Would she get that big?

I’d run the IK behind Neils, who was in his mini me with several other guides.  Despite the tiny size of my craft, I found most of the river largely doable, save for a foolish attempt to run rodeo hole, which flipped me over a few times in the washing machine to remind me who was in charge.  But I’d stayed on my lines through the larger rapids and had ridden up and down the enormous faces of the seldom-seen big water waves.  I came off the river feeling confident, and that’s when Neils started talking about Peshastin Creek.

Peshastin Creek is a technical tributary to the Wenatchee, running from highway 97 north into the larger Wenatchee.  Being a river it possesses the standard hazards, but, I was told, since it was high water, most obstacles were not really an issue as they were covered by water.  I just had to follow Neil’s lines and stay upright and I would be fine.


Despite such a serious game face, I was no match for this water.

Bouncing along the river I began to feel a heightening sense of dread.  As Neils dropped a rock and cut left I followed, but the feeling of focus I experience on the river never came.  Not comfort, but once on the river I’d always feel a sense of ease; concentrating on the task at hand was easier than chewing on your lip right before shoving off.  But this river was moving so fast that I didn’t have time to calm down.  Being used to the wide, evenly spaced Wenatchee River, I found myself scrambling to readjust my position between obstacles in the narrow creek.  The IK pitched and rolled, but I held on, intent on sticking with Neils.

The first flip happened on an innocuous pourover that caught my tube.  (@~3:00 or so on the lowest video)  I flipped over and began the game of flipping it back and attempting to crawl on top without rolling over again.  This is where only the Wenatchee is forgiving; there were no flat recovery spots or deep water on this run, and as I attempted to pull myself in, I hit another small pourover and flipped over the other side.  Each time I’d get my belly onto the IK, I’d roll the boat over when I tried to get onto  my back.  Successive attempts grew slower, my body becoming dead weight below my arms.  As my legs ping-ponged along the submerged rocks I made another unsuccessful attempt, and huffed at Neils.

“I just can’t.”

Per usual he calmed me down, steadied the boat, and I climbed back in with a whole new set of bruises to compliment those from mountain biking.

The adrenaline crash and cold water had sapped my energy, but I was determined to finish the run.  I would keep up and just follow the line.  My arms, however, had slowed; I was paddling through molasses.  The best I could do was half-heartedly follow Neils, who smashed through waves and looked as comfortable as an otter playing in the current.

The crux rapid of our route, Fresh Squeeze is a class IV series of drops over several hundred feet.  We’d scouted it from the river before putting in and it did look possible with focus and a little luck.  As we stared down into the whitewater Neils had mentioned that Peshastin was generally run between 500-750cfs; today we were at 950.  The fates, it seemed to me, would need to be a little more generous with the luck.

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biting off more than you can chew

it looks like this:

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jummy buffet sucks

Jimmy Buffet sucks.


Festooned with palm trees, Hawaiian print shirts, and a token plastic Marlin somewhere in the background, his whole legacy feels like a Caribbean theme party sponsored by a church basement.  I’m sure that when it started, the relaxing beach lifestyle and sand-in-your-toes bit seemed refreshing, but now it’s more the bastion for unimaginative 40-50 somethings who still want to cut loose, but, you know, in a very safe way.


In fairness, I’m cranky because though I fancy myself a savvy traveler, a rude awakening has come while I sit at a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville on Music Row in Nashville, drinking terrible beer and listening to “live music”, which consists of one long-haired guy named—predictably– “Dusty” strumming a guitar through several overly-popular covers (among them, obviously, “Margaritaville”) while a 12’-tall man on stilts dances around the room with a plywood cutout of a shaker of salt for…you know where this goes.  It would appear that I’m just another jackass tourist.

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adventures with apiarists

Burr comb is ugly.  Normal comb hangs in uniform sheets, 7-8 per super, and exudes the precision one would expect from a honeybee.  Segmented into uniform, bee-sized hexagons, built up with wax produced by the bees themselves, the comb holds nectar, pollen, honey, or young in varying stages of development–it’s colonial Tupperware.  Burr comb looks like pieces left in the microwave too long.

scraping away burr comb

scraping away burr comb

And burr comb can complicate things; it bulges off the frame, fusing to the wall of the hive,or if its close enough, to another frame.  It looks like mutated chaos.

“Shit,” says Brent as he shoves his putty knife between the frame and the wall and presses down “thing’s stuck.  Look at all that burr comb.”

It’s not the type of action your want to force; the frame he’s attempting to pull out is laden with bees, and I envision him jerking it free and launching the vibrating mass towards my face.

Brent is wearing his screened beekeeper’s hat; his father-in-law, who is allergic to bees, sports a full suit; I am wearing a thick coat of trust.  I stand in Brent’s Hamden, CT back yard in a long-sleeve shirt and a baseball hat, protected only by the extra two feet of berth I’m giving the hive and my faith in his knowledge of bee temperament.

As he pries again I tuck in my shirt.

Brent scrapes the sides and pulls the frame from the hive; the golden comb is thick with a coating of bees, busily tending to young or depositing food; the fact that they are rotating in the air for inspection doesn’t seem to phase them.  Inconvenienced more than annoyed, they hustle past us like we’re shopping carts in the middle of the cereal aisle.

“They’re pretty happy,” Brent says confidently “that means they’ve got lots of food; we came out here in late August last year and they were…not thrilled.”

How can you tell when they’re angry, I ask eagerly as bees perch on the brim of my hat.  “Bees don’t want to sting you.  They know if they do they die, so if you’re too close, they ram you a few times to warn you.  In August there really wasn’t food around, so they were coming straight for us.   No ramming.”


Inversion=not a problem.

Brent and his wife Shannon began keeping bees last year; they’d had good luck their first season, but had lost a hive to a swarm; one day, the bees just left.  To ask a beekeeper for a reason is to ask a fisherman why the a trout won’t bite.

They could have left because of a lack of space, a colony getting too large, or because the queen just felt like it (it’s the way hives propagate, Brent points out).  Wild hives regularly swarm, generally in the spring, sometimes following the queen fasting (so she’s light enough to fly) or just before the hatching of a new queen, which happens a few days after the old one has taken off.

For whatever reason, the bees that had been there all season were gone.

Anatomy of a beehive

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hey, river guide.

They refer to the rapid as the “S-bends”, the largest of the three relatively benign rapids on the slow-moving Skagit River.  Snaking left and right, then repeating, it resembles a skier’s line in fresh powder, a fairly simple line that requires a little foresight and knowing where to point your raft.  These were two things I lacked when I was the first one offered The Stick in raft guide training in 2011; I took us down backwards.

In my defense, paddling from the back of the boat is a little counter intuitive, but that didn’t matter to my instructor.  3 minutes of turn practice in the eddy at the put-in should have been sufficient, and like the first penguin pushed off the iceberg, I was placed in the driver’s seat, leader of the green guides, focus of ire.

From his spot sitting in the middle of the raft the instructor pointed left, so I paddled to position the boat, only to have it swing the opposite direction. The finger jabbed the air to the left again, hard.  I pulled on the paddle harder, and spun us completely around–we bounced over the waves, bucking, the sound of rushing water pierced only by the growl from the middle of the boat “What are you doing, river guide?”.  His accent on the “d” the way a cartoon character says “patooey”.  The rest of the boat was silent, and I offered up, simply, that I’d gotten confused.  “Paddle forward,” came the reply.  The discussion was over.

And thus I spent my first day on the river with Kenny, a man capable of instilling the same fear in me–a grown-ass man–as my little league coach who would take breaks from screaming at us for striking out to make us run laps for missing catches.  Quiet and somewhat unassuming, I  hadn’t realized at first that he was our instructor.  He spoke unhurriedly, and assessed us from behind dark, thick aviator eyeglasses, the bottoms of which poked out from from beneath the rim of his Navy baseball cap.  The lectures were simple, the instructions sparse and direct, and the silent hang time you’d be left in after asking a question, near unbearable.

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a hobbies not jobbies birthday

After being completely hoodwinked with a proposed double-date night of Skillet and bowling, I unwittingly stumbled into a surprise party my friends had thrown for me at The Garage.  It took me recognizing four faces to figure out what was going on because I’m that sharp.  I was able to catch up with many wonderful friends and actually bowled a personal best of 157 (if it’s a fever temp that would kill you, I call it a win), but for me, the real stunning part of the night was the cake Kellyn made.  Holy hell.

The Hobbies not Jobbies cake was a three-tiered chocolate-and-buttercream masterpiece that sported several mountains (made of rice crispies and coated in marzipan), a rock face, a river, a lake, trees, edible rocks, and snow.  In each of the little biomes was a figurine with my face glued on it, representing each of the activities I attempt to juggle.  Stunning is an understatement and I couldn’t bring myself to cut it.  Kellyn parsed up the cake that tasted as good as it looked.  Check it out:





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cooking safely (at a $152 discount)

Hobbies, not jobbies” began to manifest the summer after high school–I’d discovered lifeguarding, CPR, and First Aid.  With a taste for picking up specialty skills and liking it,  I’d begun hunting for more certifications and found that the local community college in my town (Tunxis) offered a bartending class to anyone 18+.  Sliding flaming shots down the bar?  Twirling dual bottles of expensive liquor as I expertly doled out drinks to awed crowds?  Body shots?!  I needed a line to sign.

Since I’d been looking for skills to help me acquire a second job, this is how I’d spun it to my Dad, who–in very dad-like manner–immediately shot the $300 course (more than a week’s pay) down as a “bad idea”.

“You want to spend your time dealing with drunks?  How about a food safety course instead?'” he’d offered, “If you take that, I’ll pay for it.”  More interested in calling my Dad’s bluff on the $152 course fee than the actual subject matter, I agreed and went down to register for the class.  And the boating course that still allows me to pilot boats up to 65′ in CT waters.  No joke.

Warning: Cheap, interesting classes offered at community colleges can be an unwelcome gateway to the Hobbies, not jobbies lifestyle.

The coworker that never was. Thanks dad.

I found the class fairly easy, surprisingly interesting, and adequately terrifying.  While the course was common sense and logical (and for those of us who love sequencing and color-coding, an absolute thrill), it became very clear that while I was there to get my fix of being patted on the head for a correct answer, the rest of the class was not.  This style of kitchen cooking was going to be a summer gig for me; my classmates were almost entirely lifers, and not out of passion for the culinary arts.  The bored looks, the disinterest, and the private comment from one woman–a cook at the local Marriott–that it was “crazy” to expect that if she “dropped a filet mignon on the floor” that she was going to “just throw it out” because it was an expensive piece of meat and the “grill is going to kill everything on there anyway” was enough to make me think long and hard before “ever setting foot in a chain restaurant again”. (Nerd point of order: we’d just learned about chemical-born food illness, so no, the grill wouldn’t.)

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the moth story slam: the Fremont abbey

My dreams have come true.


Long espousing hatred of standard radio (with the exception of KEXP and NPR, of course) and a lover of thought-provoking audio, I maintain that the podcast has stripped the boredom out of the most tedious of road trips.  Gone are the days of searching the dial and here are the days of podcast overload: how will we find the time to listen to them all?  First world problems at their worst.

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