Steamboat Springs Adventures
It’s summertime again, which always makes me wish that we were out in Colorado. I was browsing some of my previous photos, and realized that I never finished posting the photos from our last trip to Steamboat, in the summer of 2010.
Actually, last summer (a year after the trip) I did finish sifting through my 500+ photos and videos from the trip, and then I posted them, but I marked the set as "hidden", I think because I still wanted to write up a blog post about it?
Well, I never got around to that, but I did at least caption the photos, so the story is pretty much all there anyway. So check them out:
Exciting Schuylkill River Kayaking: Leesport to Elper's Landing
Based on my previous posts about kayaking on the Schuylkill River, you might think that all Schuylkill River kayaking is exciting. Well, that depends. If you’ve never really kayaked much before, or never on moving water, then the Schuylkill is indeed exciting. And even on sections that aren’t quite exciting, it’s still just really nice to get out onto the river on a warm and sunny day.
But some sections are more fun than others, as we found out last weekend when we kayaked from Leesport to Elper’s Landing. Most of the sections I’d previously kayaked were entirely flat and calm and wide-open, with the exception of the really cool (but alas really short) side-channel in Birdsboro. But this Leesport section has tons of riffles (basically mini-rapids) and even one or two genuine rapids -- almost certainly just class I, but still, enough to send a wave crashing into my chest as I crossed them, which is so fun.
This section also has many trees along its banks whose branches hang down over the water, so you can paddle over and float under the trees and feel like you’re in the jungle. In some spots there are also houses with neat decks right along the water, which I always enjoy checking out as we float by; other spots had big rock walls along the sides. And this stretch of river is also pretty windy, which makes it more interesting than the long straight stretches.
The put-in location is behind the post office in Leesport. We parked in the grass behind the post office, where some other cars were already parked. The take-out is called Elper’s Landing, which is a bit beyond Reading Boat Works; it’s not hard to find, but there aren’t any signs for it, and there are several Keep Out signs along the way for private driveways branching off the road, so just keep on the non-signed road until you get to the landing.
Here’s the GPS map of our route:
Kayaking the Lehigh River from Jim Thorpe to Lehighton.
Next kayak trip: coming soon!
Kayaking the Lehigh River from Jim Thorpe to Lehighton
After our first Lehigh River kayak trip went so swimmingly, we were psyched to go back again. The class I rapids had been no problem at all -- very fun actually -- in our recreational kayaks, and I planned our next trip to be an extension of the same route that would also include some short class II rapids. So whereas last time we did about half of the route from Jim Thorpe to Lehighton, this time we did the whole thing.
There are two class II rapids on this route, the two shown in yellow at the top of the Weissport Canal Loop map. According to American Whitewater, the first one is Bear Trap rapids; I can’t find a name for the second one, under the railroad bridge.
We navigated these rapids easily (as you can see in the videos) in our recreational kayaks, an Emotion Glide and a Perception Sport Sound 9.5. The water level was very high during our run -- about 4000 cfs, compared to ~500-1500 cfs normally -- because of a larger-than-normal dam release to make room in the reservoir for the expected rain from Hurricane Irene, hitting in the next couple of days. This high water level might have made the rapids easier, because we didn’t hit, nor even see, any rocks at all in the rapids; but we also went back a week later and did this same run again at a normal river level, and again had no problems.
I don’t think these kayaks would do well up in the Lehigh Gorge with the class III rapids, because they can’t be quickly turned, nor unrolled, the way whitewater kayaks can. But being able to do class IIs opens up a pretty large amount of the Lehigh River below the gorge, so we have lots more yakking to look forward to!
Check out all the photos and videos from this run.
Previous kayak trip: Kayaking the Lehigh River: Weissport Canal Loop.
Bonus kayak trip: Kayaking the Hiwassee River in Tennessee.
Next kayak trip: Exciting Schuylkill River Kayaking: Leesport to Elper’s Landing.
180 Degrees South
I love this movie. I guess it’s a couple years old now, but I only just recently discovered it. It’s overflowing with breathtaking shots of beautiful mountains and oceans. It’s got a great soundtrack. And it tells interesting stories, some small and some large, in the lives of a few rock climbers, surfers, explorers, and just regular people in interesting places.
(Note: the trailers on the website really don’t do it justice, especially the "Original Trailer". And they sort of make it seem overly political, which it’s totally not.)
Kayaking the Lehigh River: Weissport Canal Loop
Well, it may have ruined me for the Schuylkill, but the Lehigh River is an amazing place to kayak. Kim and I paddled the short Weissport canal loop on Saturday, and it was one of the most fun things we’ve ever done.
For this loop, you start at the Canal Street parking lot, where you get into the canal and head north. This canal is much cleaner and less stagnant than the one on the Lock 60 loop on the Schuylkill River. It’s got nice stretches full of huge lily pads, and much of the bottom is covered with these long, soft, pine-needley plants whose arms reach up and wave as you pass by. It’s also cool: on this 90-degree day, the river was about 73F, and the canal wasn’t much warmer than that.
The one downside to the canal is the portages: in the less than 2 miles that we were on it, there were 3 spots where we had to get out and drag the kayaks over land. The first one is barely 5 minutes into the trip, and the portage distance is maybe 10 feet. The second one is about 15 minutes later, and it’s a few dozen yards. The third portage is referred to on the map as the "last canal portage", and indeed, it appeared that the canal ended at this point: it got really shallow and then turned into a very small stream. There is a walking trail (the D & L Trail) all along the route between the canal and the river, and we had to get out and drag the kayaks on this trail about 500 feet upstream until we found a spot where we could access the river.
My one major gripe about this loop is that, based on the official-seeming map on the Wildlands Conservancy website, I expected the transition location from canal to river to be at least easy to spot, perhaps even marked in some way. But that wasn’t the case at all. For one thing, the canal kind of just ends, and although the trail is still there along the left bank, there’s no easy spot to take out at. In fact the one spot that looked like it might be a good take-out location was covered in hay with new grass growing up through it, as if they decidedly did not want you to use it as a take-out. But most of the rest of this northern stretch is full of trees and overgrowth that would be tough to get through. And then, when you finally do manage to get up onto the trail, you find a fence along the lefthand side, between the trail and the river -- again, as if they really don’t want people to do this loop. The reason we walked 500 feet upstream to get into the river is that, in addition to the map and my GPS seeming to indicate that that was the spot, we also had to walk about that far just to get beyond the fence.
But griping aside, when we finally did get into the river, holy cow was it fun! There were class-I rapids right at the put-in, and there were ye-haws all around. This was our first time on whitewater (other than a bit of rapids on the Yampa River in Colorado, but that was in a raft) and it was really exciting. I chose this loop because it only has class-I rapids, and only 4 of them, but they were still really awesome. Besides the whitewater, the other thing that makes the Lehigh more exciting than the Schuylkill is that the water is moving much faster, especially during dam releases from the F.E. Walter Dam, which on this day raised the water level from about 550 to 990 cfs at the Lehighton gage. And the Lehigh water is also nice and cool, being 13 degrees cooler than the Schuylkill on this particular day.
Actually, I do have one other complaint about this trip: I wish the river section were longer! It was over in a flash. We spent about an hour padding up the canal, and about 40 minutes coming back down the river, which included a 10-minute stop along the bank to swim. At the end, we took out at a big rock hill along a curve in the river, which was a bit of a challenge given the speed of the water, and then the need to carry the kayak up the ~20-foot hill of boulders, but nothing too problematic.
After getting home and reviewing the map and GPS log, I decided that I think we got into the river a bit earlier than the map intended. I now think that if we’d walked another hundred yards upriver, we would have found the intended put-in spot, which perhaps would have been marked with a sign or something. The spot where we did put in was kind of a side-channel beside some small islands, and it was pretty shallow and rocky; if it hadn’t been a dam release day, I don’t think this section would have been navigable at all. If we’d have gone a bit farther north, we would have been putting into the main river channel -- still within a section of rapids according to the map, but not such a shallow rocky section.
Recreational Kayaks on Whitewater?
Before this trip, I wasn’t exactly sure how we’d do on the rapids with our recreational kayaks (an Emotion Glide, and a Perception Sport Sound 9.5). I’d done some research, and spoken to a few people with whitewater experience, and the consensus seemed to be that class-I rapids might be doable, class-IIIs would not be, and class-IIs were iffy. But there were also some people who scoffed at the very idea of taking recreational kayaks on rapids, no matter how gentle or rough.
Our previous experience included about 10 kayaking trips for me, and 5 for Kim, on rivers, lakes, and the ocean with small waves. So while we’d never done whitewater before, we had some kayaking experience under our belts. We also had life jackets, emergency whistles, cups for bailing water, and a flotation bag in my kayak, with flotation pillars in Kim’s (now upgraded to a flotation bag as well). We also had my iPhone (in an Aquapac which is quite awesome BTW), which I use for photos and navigation, and of course could be used to call for help. We didn’t end up needing any of those things, but the point is that we were reasonably prepared.
Based on all of that, I felt confident that we wouldn’t have any major trouble doing class-I rapids, particularly a small number of them on a relatively short stretch of a wide river, which is partly why I chose the Weissport canal loop for our first whitewater run. And it turned out to be just fine, quite easy, and super fun. It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to roll either of our kayaks, so unfortunately we won’t be heading up into the Lehigh Gorge and hitting the class-III rapids until we’re able to get some whitewater kayaks, but I definitely plan to do more of the many class-Is and perhaps some of the class-IIs in the sections south of the gorge.
As usual you can check out the photos (including the GPS map) from the trip.
Update: we went back a few weeks later and did a longer version of this run, kayaking from Jim Thorpe to Lehighton.Previous kayak trip: Kayaking the Lock 60 Loop on the Schuylkill River.
Next kayak trip: Kayaking the Hiwassee River in Tennessee.
Kayaking the Lock 60 Loop on the Schuylkill River
Even though it was a disgusting 100 degrees on Saturday, and even though the river water was 90 degrees (no, really), Kim and I decided to paddle the lock 60 loop in Phoenixville/Mont Clare. Despite the heat, it was a nice trip.
We started at the parking lot just below Black Rock Dam, where we got into the river. The first thing we did was paddle upstream to the dam to check it out (though we couldn’t get all that close because it got really shallow, since the water level is a bit low: about 500 cfs at the Pottstown gage). Then we paddled downstream for about an hour, until we reached the portage point. This is easy to find because of the power lines: the portage trail from the river to the canal runs right under them. It’s a quick 5-minute walk where you can drag your kayak over the soft grass and dirt, then you hop in the canal and paddle "upstream" back to the parking lot (of course the water isn’t moving in the canal, but it’s upstream relative to the river’s flow).
The river at this section is pretty nice, with lots of small islands of really-soft-looking green plants, plus a bunch of ducks, geese, and cranes. And the canal is neat too, even though the water in it is of course somewhat stagnant. But it’s neat because it’s largely covered by a canopy of trees, and it goes right by a whole bunch of backyards, where people have set up small docks and fire rings and benches by the water. We spotted a few turtles too, though they were camera-shy and slid off their logs into the water before we could get any good shots of them.
Check out all the photos on Kim’s site, and here’s the GPS trail of our route:
Previous kayak trip: Schuylkill River Kayaking: Pottstown to Linfield.
Next kayak trip: Kayaking the Lehigh River: Weissport Canal Loop.
Schuylkill River Kayaking: Pottstown to Linfield
I really like this section of the river. Maybe it’s just because it was a nice sunny day, whereas my previous run (from Union Township to Pottstown) was on a cloudy day, but it seemed nicer and more rustic. You do pass the Limerick nuclear power plant, which is kind of neat, but after passing it, you’re right in the path of the noise from one of its buildings, which is a semi-loud fan-type noise that lasts for about a mile.
One highlight of this run is a very small section of rapids right near the take-out point. When I say small, I mean, it’s tiny; if it registers at all, it’s certainly no more than a class-I rapid. So it’s nothing that whitewater-lovers would get excited about, but it’s pretty fun in the middle of a nice peaceful trip down the Schuylkill.
A bit before the rapids, I saw some guys on the right bank swinging on a rope swing out over the water. I asked if they used it to launch into the water, and they said yeah, but only when the flow is up around 4000 cfs. On this day, it was about 1000, and only 2-3 feet deep in that area; I can’t imagine they see many days with the kind of discharge necessary to jump in.
I think one of the reasons I love the Schuylkill River so much is that it’s right there. I mean, it’s been right there my whole life, just waiting for me to discover it and get into it. I’m sorry it took me so long, but now I’m having a great time. It’s no Yampa River, but measuring Pennsylvania against Colorado is not exactly a fair fight :)
Thanks to the sunshine, I was able to take some pretty nice kayaking photos this time, so check them out!Previous kayak trip: Kayaking on the Schuylkill River (Union Township to Pottstown).
Next kayak trip: Kayaking the Lock 60 Loop on the Schuylkill River.
Tubing on the Schuylkill River
A couple of weeks ago, Mom, Maria, and I went tubing on the Schuylkill River near Birdsboro, and we had a great time. We went with the Schuylkill River Outdoors outfit, which is a business that opened up last year in Monocacy Station.
We drove to their location on the river, parked the car, and paid $15 each for the ~2-hour trip. They provided us each with a tube, put us onto a small bus, and drove us the 3 miles upriver to the put-in location. This is a small parking area right next to the river on what I presume is public land; it’s apparently used by fishermen and such. We hopped out of the bus and into the river, and we were on our way!
The water at the put-in spot was pretty slow-moving on this particular day, so there was some plant matter film on the surface, which wasn’t super-nice. But right after putting in, there’s a small channel on the left side of the river, which we paddled over to. This channel was really awesome: it was smaller, more fast-moving, and the water just seemed very clean and clear. It’s also almost entirely shaded, so it feels like a jungle in there.
The channel comes out just below the route 345 bridge, and then you’re back into the main part of the river, and the water is no longer filmy here. A few minutes after this, there’s a small island on the right, and just across from the tail end of this island, there’s a rope swing on the left riverbank. We discovered this a few minutes before we actually reached it, when, looking downriver, we noticed a kid go flying through the air and into the water! It looked totally awesome, so we paddled over and stopped so Maria and I could do a few swings into the river. It’s nice and deep at this spot -- maybe 8 feet or so -- so it’s the perfect place for a swing.
The rest of the trip was spent just lazily floating down the river, enjoying the sunshine and the outdoors. As I mentioned in my kayaking trip log, the Schuylkill River water is just so much cleaner than its reputation suggests. As long as it hasn’t rained much in the previous couple of days, the water is clear enough so that you can see the river bottom. And the only significant pollution we saw was tires on the bottom: probably a dozen or so during our trip. So considering how nice the river is, I’m continually surprised by how few people there are out on the water. It was a nice 95-degree day, but other than the group of maybe 10 teenagers at the ropeswing and on the island, we didn’t see anyone else the whole time.
Our 3-mile float lasted about 2 hours, and we ended at Schuylkill River Outdoors’ take-out point, where they’ve got a big "SRO" sign hanging in a tree, and one of their people standing in the river waiting to help you out of the water. SRO does a great job of getting you into and out of the water with minimal fuss: they provide the tubes and the ride upriver, then get out of the way so you can enjoy the water. At the end you hop in your car and leave. It’s a nice little gig they’ve got, and I hope they continue to do well and get more people back in touch with this beautiful river that’s right here in our backyard.
Here’s a map of the route we took:
Kayaking on the Schuylkill River
Last Saturday I kayaked in the Schuylkill River for the first time, and it was pretty awesome. Kim had bought me this sweet kayak for my birthday last winter, and I finally got a roof rack for it a couple weeks ago, so this was its maiden voyage.
I had only kayaked a few times before: on a lake near Ricketts Glen, on a river in the Bahamas, and on the ocean/bay in Cape Cod. Those times were all in rented kayaks and with other people; this time it was just me and the Schuylkill.
It was only in the past couple weeks, while researching places to kayak, that I discovered the Water Trails guides, including the Schuylkill Water Trail map. This is unlike every other standard/park/hiking map I’ve used, in that it shows all the bridges, dams, and potential hazards in the course of the river. And it also shows all the public landings that you can use to put in or take out of the river.
I put in at the Union Township landing, which I had never even heard of before seeing it on the Water Trail map. You access it via a tiny unnamed road off of route 724 that goes right between Monty’s Mulch and Tim’s Ugly Mug, and which I’d always assumed was part of one of those businesses, since there’s no street sign on it or anything. Only once you turn onto this tiny road and drive a bit do you come upon a sign declaring the existence of the landing. Update: sometime in late 2011 or early 2012, they put up a nice big sign for this landing, along with a new road, parking lot, and a couple of restrooms, so it’s now very easy to find.
Mom rode with me to the landing, so that she could then take my car back to the take-out point (Pottstown Riverfront Park) so it’d be there when I finished. She took some photos and videos of the launch, and she ended up waiting for me at the end to take some there too -- what a mom!
The kayaking trip was 8 miles long, and it lasted 2 hours. As I note in one of the videos, I was moving at about 4-6 miles per hour when paddling, and about 2 mph when I just sat back and let the river do the work.
During the trip, I was struck by how peaceful the river is, and also how empty it was. In the whole 8 miles, I saw only 6 other groups of people: 4 dudes in an inflatable tube on a Schuylkill River Outdoors trip; a guy in the river fly-fishing; a man and his small kids on one of the landings; and 3 rowboats with motors, each containing two fishermen. I mean, I’m kinda shocked that I’ve never spent any time in the river before (other than a few water-skiing/kneeboarding trips with my neighbors back in the mid-90s), and it just seems crazy to me that in the middle of a nice hot Saturday, so few people were out there enjoying the water.
I was also impressed by how clean the Schuylkill is, at least compared to what I think is the common view of it being a dirty river. The water itself was nice and clear (of course I checked the Philly RiverCast before getting in), and I only saw maybe half a dozen pieces of litter in the entire trip. There were however quite few tires on the bottom: I must’ve seen a dozen or more in the course of the 8 miles I paddled. If I had one of those powered rowboats, I might try to pick up a tire each time I went out on the water, to eventually get rid of all of them.
All in all it was a great trip, and I can’t wait to do it again. Don’t forget to check out the photos and videos that mom and I took before/during/after the trip.
Next kayak trip: Schuylkill River Kayaking from Pottstown to Linfield.
I really love the new header image; the colors are wonderful. Do you know where this shot was taken? Also, when do we (and our kayaks) leave? : ) Can’t wait.
The Best Mountain Bike Trails in Pennsylvania...
...are not actually in PA: they’re right across the border in Delaware. I’m talking about Middle Run Park and White Clay Creek. I biked these trails with Rolly yesterday, and I was amazed by their awesomeness. I haven’t had this much fun biking in a long time. In fact I’d say these are the best trails I’ve ever ridden.
We started at the parking lot for Middle Run Valley Natural Area, off Possum Hollow Road. From there the trails go into the woods and then loop all over the place. We did 11.4 miles (in 3 hours total with 90 minutes riding time) and I’m sure we didn’t even bike half of the total trail length. We were using a copy of this map, but if you’ve got a GPS-enabled smartphone and a couple of hours to ride, you could just note the location of the parking lot, then head into the woods and ride. The trails are mostly all loops and you could pretty easily find your way back.
What’s so great about Middle Run Park is that the trails are mostly smooth dirt singletrack, without any huge hills. There are lots of hills, but they’re mostly small, so that you’re not killing yourself grinding up any mountains. Instead you’re flying up and down these small fast hills, then flying through a meadow, then flying over a creek, then flying through a creek... it’s MTB heaven. The place was apparently designed by bikers specifically for bikers, and it shows. They’ve done a great job.
There’s a nice "Skills Trail" that has log rides, wooden plank bridges, and even teeter-totters. There are some pretty big drops to be dropped too. And throughout the park there are quite a few plank bridges, some over creeks and some just for fun, some with railings and some without. It’s not exactly Kranked, but in some spots it kinda feels like it.
The terrain is pretty varied too, even in the relatively small area that we covered. There’s some plain old forests, some beautiful meadows, and we even hit a pine forest, which smelled wonderful. One of my favorite parts was a tight, windy, small-hilly section that was cut into the side of a larger hill; it had a decent drop off the one side and really just felt like a jungle to me.
Perhaps the best thing about Middle Run, for me, is the lack of rocks. I’m used to riding in places like French Creek, Wissahickon/Fairmount, and a few places near State College, all of which are essentially giant rock gardens. You ride it if it’s all you’ve got, but I would never ride those places again if I had something like Middle Run nearby. Alas, Middle Run is about 75 minutes away, but even at that, I intend to make many trips to there in the future. The difference between riding the local pure-rock trails and riding Middle Run is like night and day.
Gore Mountain Ski Trip
A few weeks ago, Kim and I took a little ski trip to Gore Mountain, New York. We’d never been there before, and this was only my third time skiing, so it was a new and exciting adventure.
We set out on a Tuesday around 1 PM, and arrived around 9 PM. The trip is nominally 6.5 hours, but we had a couple of detours for wild goose chases looking for restaurants that were listed on the iPhone maps app, but turned out to not exist (note: don’t trust any "sponsored links" in there, and always check the satellite view to make sure the "restaurant" isn’t on a back road in the middle of nowhere).
We also hit some pretty serious snow during the last hour or so of the drive, which slowed us down quite a bit. But our timing couldn’t have been better, because overnight the Gore Mountain area got about 18 inches of snow. In fact, it snowed the entire time we were there, including another ~10 inches the second night/day, which made the whole trip extra awesome. Here’s the view from our room’s deck on the first night:
Welcome to North Creek
The little town of North Creek NY is a charming and sleepy place. It’s a nice 20-minute drive from the highway, and when you get there, you wouldn’t necessarily know that you’re right next to a big popular ski mountain. We’ve resolved to take ski trips during the week to avoid the crowds and long lines, which makes the skiing much better, but we discovered that North Creek is kind of a ghost town during the week -- which is just fine, as far as we’re concerned.
The whole town is basically one short main street with 10 or so local restaurants mixed amongst houses and small hotels. When we arrived around 9 PM, all but one of the restaurants was closed, and that one -- barVino -- looked nice but was more of a wine bar than a proper restaurant, and since it was empty and closing soon, we ended up just snacking in our room.
I don’t think there is a single 24-hour establishment in North Creek, which is kind of strange when you’re used to there being several 24-hour grocery stores and convenience stores within a 5-10 minute drive at all times. On the one hand it’s nice, but around 9 PM on the second night, I developed a runny nose that just wouldn’t stop, which made it very difficult to sleep; I would have paid a lot of money for some Nyquil. There’s also no cell phone signal in the town, but fortunately there was free wifi at our hotel. The ski area was a few miles away and it did have cell coverage.
The Adirondack Alpine Lodge
We stayed at The Alpine Lodge, and I was extremely impressed with it. It seems brand new and was very clean and nice. The small hotel is well-designed, with large overhangs that keep the walkways -- and each room’s private deck -- free of snow. The decor is very rustic, and all the furniture is beautiful and hand-made from mostly raw wood (i.e. tree branches). The shower, though a little small, had great pressure, and the tile floor in the bathroom seemed to be heated. The room had a flat-screen TV with built-in DVD player, which as Netflix lovers we really appreciated; it seems that hardly any hotels have DVD players so we were pleasantly surprised. The private deck was quite nice and since it was covered, it was really convenient for us to just leave our cooler outside; we didn’t have to refill the ice at all.
The lodge also has a neat policy for check-in and check-out: the doors have keypads instead of keys or cards, so they give you a code when you make your reservation, which means you can just show up and go right into your room without really checking in at all. In fact there is no front desk nor lobby nor anything like that, though there is a common area (also key-coded). Check-out is the same: you just leave. This is super appealing to us, but it did reveal what turned out to be the one big downside: it was impossible for us to get ahold of anyone from the hotel. There’s a room phone with the standard "dial 0 for front desk" kind of label on it, but doing that only ever got us voice-mail, and they never returned any of our calls.
We didn’t really need much from them: some extra towels would have been nice, and when we had made our reservation over the phone, they mentioned that we could get a discount on lift tickets from them, which we were hoping to do on Wednesday morning. We didn’t pay for them in advance (with the reservation), fortunately, and we ended up just getting tickets at the mountain. And we did put out a "No room service / Do not disturb" sign on the door, because at hotels we generally don’t want people coming in every day, messing with whatever our schedule is, and potentially rooting through our stuff; so perhaps the towels would have been replaced if we hadn’t put the sign out, though it seems unlikely.
The other problem with the hotel was that the doors leading into the common area (and/or to the second-floor rooms) slam closed very loudly whenever anyone goes through them. Our room was right near these doors, and you could even feel the room shake a bit every time they closed -- which happened annoyingly often especially considering that there appeared to only be 2 or 3 other guests at the hotel during our stay.
In the room there was a "how was your stay" comments sheet, so I filled it out on the day we left, giving them high marks for everything except the service, and writing a note about the slamming doors and how it was impossible to get ahold of anyone. They later called us and said that our review hurt their feelings (no, seriously), and said that we should have called their cell phone number (which was apparently the one we got from the ad/website to make the reservation) instead of dialing 0 on the room phone. That is of course absurd; you don’t put phones in each room with a "dial 0" message and then a) not answer and b) never return the voice-mails -- and you definitely don’t call the guests after the fact to say that their review hurt your feelings, when the review contained praise and also valuable constructive criticism that if heeded would improve the business.
Despite those issues, I loved The Alpine Lodge and would definitely go back. Kim wasn’t as crazy about it though, so we’ll see.
On the Mountain
We didn’t spend quite as much time actually skiing as we would have liked, due to a combination of factors: our (my) weird sleep schedule, us both having varying degrees of colds, and the fact that the Gore Mountain lifts close at 3:45 PM. (Their slogan is "More Gore!" but with the lifts closing so early, "Less Gore!" seems more appropriate.) Our skiing days were Wednesday and Thursday, and we skied about 3 hours each day.
The conditions were pretty amazing, due to all the snow that fell during our stay. In fact on our very first run we got onto an ungroomed trail that had about two feet of sink-into-it snow and no tracks. For me this was a real challenge, because I ski less than once per year, and had only done it twice in my life before; so I had a hard time in this deep powder and kept falling, which frustrated the heck out of me. The deep snow also made it really hard to clip your boots back into your skis after falling, adding to my aggravation. But Kim was very patient with me, and we managed to get down and then back up the mountain and onto some groomed trails.
Another thing that frustrated me -- or that made my frustration worse -- was that I was really overheated. Partly this was because at first I was hardly moving, but it was also because I had 3 layers of clothes on: ski pants/shirt (basically thermal underwear), then sweatpants and long-sleeve shirt, and finally snow pants and jacket. I guess that’s because my first ski trip involved 10-degree temperatures, but this time it was right around 30 degrees, so the middle layer was definitely too much. Removing that helped a lot.
The mountain itself was pretty nice, comparable in size to Jay Peak, though of course nothing like Steamboat Springs. But to me (with relatively little experience) the trails seemed long and numerous enough, and there were no lift lines since we went during the week. There were quite a few trails and lifts closed though, so your options for runs were somewhat limited. But as with our Jay Peak trip, there were some runs where we had the whole trail to ourselves, and none that were crowded by any means.
To Ski or Not to Ski
Part of the reason our first day of skiing wasn’t longer was that I had to rent skis and boots and poles before we could get out there. Renting makes sense the first time you ski, and probably the second time, but by now, the time and hassle and expense of renting are starting to irritate me. It doesn’t help that all the guys in the rental shop are obviously way cooler than me, and I look like a total noob getting my little rentals. (As an aside, the stereo in the rental shop was blasting out music, and I noted several Tool tracks followed immediately by Billy Joel -- ??)
Another reason I rent, though, is that I haven’t yet decided whether to be a skier or a snowboarder. I haven’t yet tried snowboarding, having only been on 3 short ski trips in my life. So until I get a chance to snowboard and make up my mind, I’m going to be stuck with rentals.
But this trip, especially that first trail where I just kept falling, reminded me of what I hate about skiing: the boots and the leg pain. Ski boots are just so freakin’ heavy and uncomfortable. The leg pain is just because I’m not a super athlete like Kim (I mean, she really is), especially during the winter. I’m in pretty good shape, but skiing is just so hard on your legs; it takes tons of strength and control to be able to keep the skis together and to make the turns. You have to move your legs independently, and it’s become clear to me that one of my legs is much stronger (or at least easier to control on turns) than the other. We did get a sweet exercise bike a couple weeks ago, so in the future this will be less of an issue since I’ll be able to bike in the winter.
However I also realized that this is one huge advantage of snowboarding over skiing: since your feet are locked in place on a snowboard, you don’t have to be constantly fighting (and straining) your legs to keep them in position relative to each other. I’m sure that you still need some leg strength to be decent at snowboarding, but you’re doing different things with your legs than a skier does, and it seems to me that in this respect I’ll like snowboarding a lot better.
So whether I will actually end up liking snowboarding better, I don’t know yet, but I’ve decided that I’m snowboarding on our next winter trip.
North Creek Restaurants
There aren’t a ton of restaurant choices in and around North Creek, at least not during the week, because several of them are closed Monday through Wednesday, or Tuesday through Thursday, etc. But considering the size of the main street area of the town, the restaurant selection is not bad. And it’s nice that the handful of restaurants are all within short walking distance of the lodge.
On Wednesday morning we ate breakfast at Marsha’s Family Restaurant. At around 10 AM, we were one of only two groups there. This is a typical diner-type place, which we don’t really like, but it wasn’t bad.
For dinner we went to Trapper’s Tavern, which is inside the Copperfield Inn. It’s beautiful inside, with lots of exposed log architecture. And with 4 or 5 other groups there, it was the busiest place we saw. We weren’t blown away by our meals, but they were pretty good and we’d probably go back.
On Thursday morning we went to Common Roots for breakfast. It was again sort of typical diner fare. Suspiciously, the "home fries" were exactly the same as the ones from Marsha’s. As always, I requested them to be extra crispy at both places; both waitresses said OK; neither place actually did it.
Lorenzo’s in North Creek
Thursday night’s dinner was the food highlight of our trip. We ate at Lorenzo’s, which is the other restaurant inside the Copperfield Inn. We were the only people in the whole place, but we did get there at 5 PM right as they were opening. It looks extremely fancy, and you’d think there’d be a dress code, but there isn’t; their menu even has a statement to the effect of "we will strive to provide a high-class dining experience without any pretension."
The waiter perfectly embodied this philosophy: he was dressed in formal attire and was extremely professional, yet also very friendly and helpful. He seated us right in front of the brick oven, which is the centerpiece of the open kitchen area. We could also see the freshly-made pasta drying on racks by the oven. And when I placed my order, part of which was the Baked Roman Style Semolina Gnocchi, the waiter recommended the Gnocchi in Parmesan Fondue instead, because it’s apparently a customer favorite.
Everything on the menu sounded wonderful, and I decided to get three smaller dishes so I could try more things: the aforementioned Gnocchi in Parmesan Fondue, the Crispy Calamari with Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette, and the Roasted Radicchio di Treviso ("A hearty lettuce lightly marinated and roasted"). The gnocchi dish was one of the most creamy and delicious things I’ve ever eaten. The calamari were perfect: crispy, tender, and delicious. They’re served with the vinaigrette on the bottom, underneath the heaping pile of calamari, so as not to allow the strong sauce to overpower the flavor and crispiness of the calamari. And indeed, once I got down to the sauce, every bite was a difficult decision, because the crispy calamari alone were amazing, but they were also great dipped in the sauce.
The radicchio was the only thing I didn’t like; I think it just had a particular spice in it that I didn’t care for. Or maybe we just hate vegetables, because Kim got the Grilled Broccolini, and we were both lukewarm on that as well. But her main dish was one of their brick oven pizzas, and she absolutely loved it -- which is especially high praise because Kim, like me, is a picky pizza eater.
In addition to being extremely pleased with the food itself, Kim and I were both amazed at the speed with which the chef prepared all 5 dishes. The chef’s name was Denver, and since we were seated right next to the open kitchen, and we were the only guests there, we could see her preparing everything. Just like the waiter, Denver was very friendly, and we had a nice chat with her after our food was served.
The restaurant has a great atmosphere as well, partly because of the many huge windows which give a nice view of the snowy pine trees outside. We ate right around dusk, and there was lots of snow falling, which combined with the light and warmth of the brick oven to create a really cozy setting.
Our meal at Lorenzo’s was certainly among the best dining experiences we’ve ever had.
We drove home on Friday, and hit some snow on parts of this drive too. Driving through upstate New York, you pass through long stretches with nothing but trees surrounding the highway, and because of all the snow that had fallen, many of these huge trees were leaning way over, some actually onto the road. It was pretty crazy. And we tried to stop at a couple of restaurants, but they were stuck under a couple feet of snow and still being dug out around noon. Finally we found an Applebee’s that was open.
It was a pretty great trip overall. The North Creek area is really nice, and the brochures in the area advertised fun summery water activities too, since it’s right on the Hudson, so we might even go back for a hiking/rafting/kayaking trip during the summer months.
Cape Cod: Great Beaches, Bad Restaurants
Last week, we took a fun little vacation to Cape Cod. We left Sunday and returned Thursday, but because the drive takes a whole day -- it’s nominally ~7 hours, but longer if you include a few bathroom breaks and a meal stop -- we really only spent 3 days there.
Our plan was to camp, because we like that and we’re used to camping at the Jersey shore. But the campground doesn’t let you check in after 9 PM, so we had to stay in a hotel the first night. The brand-name hotels were all around $200 per night, so I tried to find something cheaper, and found Cape Point Hotel for $135. It turned out to be pretty terrible: the hallway to our room and our room itself had a strange gross smell; the air conditioner continually turned itself off and on despite being set to stay on; the handle on the toilet fell off when you touched it; and, as we checked out, the woman at the desk didn’t even ask how our stay was. I assume she already knew.
On Cape Cod you have the bay on the north shore, the sound on the south shore, the ocean on the east shore, and then you have lots of huge inland ponds. On the first day we checked into the campground around 1 PM, set up camp, and then walked the ~1 mile to the bay. But it was low tide when we arrived there at around 3 PM, and low tide on Cape Cod Bay means you need to walk about three-quarters of a mile to get to water that’s more than ankle-deep. It was neat to see, especially the dozen or so boats that were anchored and sitting on dry land due to the low tide, and the water was quite warm, probably 75F or slightly warmer. And it was nice and uncrowded, with perhaps 100 people spread across the one square mile or so of beach and bay.
But I really wanted to get into some real ocean water that was cool and deep enough to swim in. On the second day, we mapped a bike ride across the peninsula to Nantucket Sound. Starting at our campground in Brewster, it was a short 1.5 mile ride on route 137 to Underpass Road, where we picked up a bike path that goes almost right across most of the peninsula. We got off the path at Lothrop Ave and took that to Earle Road, which led us right to Earle Road Beach. It’s a small beach, probably not even a football field long, but we arrived around 10 AM and there were only 3 or 4 other groups there. It had decent waves despite technically being the sound and not the ocean, and the water temperature was perfect, probably about 73-75F. As a longtime Jersey shore beachgoer, I loved how soft and shell-free the sand was, and how clean the water was. After an hour or so, we biked back across the cape to our campsite. The ride was 8.5 miles each way, which took us about 50 minutes, so it was a good ride -- and it was neat to pass several of the huge ponds along the way. We’ll definitely have to swim in some of those next time.
Later in the day we drove up the cape, in search of sand dunes and a nice ocean-side beach, which we eventually found (thanks to Brian’s navigational help) in Wellfleet. At this particular beach the parking area is about 75 feet above sea level, so you have to take one of two steep diagonal trails down the face of the sand dune to get to the beach. It was late in the day when we arrived, so we didn’t swim, but I did walk into the water up to my shins, and it was cold. The water was nice and turquois, though, as you can see in the satellite view, so I think we’ll probably make a point to swim here on our next trip.
On our third and final day, we rented kayaks from The Chatham Kayak Company. The fancy name contrasts with the extremely informal (in a good way) nature of the operation: you drive to the end of Barn Hill Road, make a hard left just before the parking lot, and Anne or John emerges from a shack to take your information and put you into a kayak. They’re right on the water of Oyster Pond River, so you’re into the water and ready to go pretty quickly. We headed towards Stage Harbor, then went out the small channel into the sound (or technically, I guess it’s Sequetucket Harbor at that location). We went about 2 miles, not quite making it to the ocean, but we did get into some waves, and in fact I capsized my kayak on one of them. This turned out to be a good thing, because I lost our only water bottle when I flipped, which meant that we had to head back; and we ended up with pretty decent sunburn after the ~2.5 hour trip as it was, so we’d’ve been in bad shape if we stayed out much longer. Here’s the route we took:
The kayak trip was the highlight of the vacation, though. We’ve kayaked a few times before, but never on open water like that. It was really neat to be able to just go wherever you wanted, and to stop at beaches which were inaccessible except by boat and therefore totally devoid of people. Not having kayaked much before, I forgot that there’s actually a lot of room in the boat for stuff like water bottles, extra sunblock, etc; had I realized that, I would have brought a backpack with enough supplies to turn it into a half day’s adventure.
The nice water, beaches, and bike trails on Cape Cod are unfortunately beset by countless restaurants -- bad restaurants -- which were the downside of an otherwise awesome trip.
On the first morning, we ate breakfast at Hearth ’n Kettle. This place looks promising: nice on the outside and country-style on the inside, like a less fake version of Cracker Barrel or Bob Evans. But once seated, we had a longish wait before our waitress noticed us and took our orders. My omelette was made of something other than natural eggs; I’ve never knowingly eaten "egg beaters" or anything like that, but that’s what I thought of -- it was slightly rubbery, perfectly smooth on top, and just unnatural. The "home fries" were new potatoes that were just halved and deep fried, rather than cut up and pan-fried. But that stuff is minor compared to what happened when the waitress brought out the tray of food for the table across from us. She accidentally knocked a piece of toast off a plate and onto the surface of the tray, then grabbed it with her bare hand, fumbled it a few times and generally just smooshed it around on the dirty tray surface, and then placed it back onto the plate. This happened right next to us and away from the table where the food was going, so they probably didn’t see it; Kim and I just watched in horror.
Before the trip, I spent a fair bit of time researching restaurants on Fodor’s and TripAdvisor. The #1 Cape Cod restaurant on TripAdvisor is Moby Dick’s, and after reading the reviews, it seemed like a safe bet. When we arrived there was a long line with an hour-long wait, but it ended up being only a half an hour due to some people bailing out early. We were seated in what appears to be the only section in the whole place, which is basically a screened-in deck with powerful overhead fans blowing right on you and your food. (I do recall being asked whether we wanted to choose where we sit, or take the first available table; this was after our long wait to get in, so we opted for first available, but I assume that perhaps this means there actually is another section, which is hopefully more indoors and nicer.) I had never had a lobster roll before, and since they’re all the hype on Cape Cod, and since I love lobster, I decided to try one. It wasn’t bad, but was certainly nothing special; and I gather that they’re supposed to be cold, but I guess I just don’t care for cold lobster. The bread/roll was just barely toasted, and it was overall pretty small, I’d guess 8-10 ounces. The presentation certainly left something to be desired (see photo below). So on the whole, Moby Dick’s wasn’t terrible, but was not especially good either. I doubt we’ll go back.
In the mornings, I made a campfire and roasted up some bratwurst and sausage; these were by far the best meals I had on Cape Cod:
Our next meal out was at Carmine’s in Chatham. This is a pizza shop, and I thought the pizza was decent, though nowhere near as good as Mack and Manco or Grotto. Kim wasn’t crazy about it. However, considering that I am apparently a pizza snob, the fact that I think Carmine’s is OK might actually be a decent compliment for them. I wouldn’t mind getting pizza here again. The one downside was that there’s no bathroom, which means nowhere to wash your hands; you have to walk out the back of the building, around a corner past another building, and across a parking lot to get to public restrooms (they were nice restrooms though).
Another restaurant that had good reviews was The Paddock, so we went there on our second night. This place looks nice and fancy; it doesn’t have a dress code, but they do the full table sets with proper silverware and plate layouts, wine glasses, etc. They served pre-meal bread with dipping oil, which I love, and this particular oil also had some kind of tomato-based herb mixture under it, and it was amazing. My salad was also quite good, and my meal -- peppercorn-encrusted swordfish -- was really good too. However, it was more like peppercorn-conquered swordfish -- not a bad thing in my book -- which made it really spicy, and I finished my tiny-wine-glass portion of Coke in no time. I couldn’t continue to eat it without more beverage; and Kim was also at an impasse with her meal at this point. But after delivering our meals, our waitress abandoned us for at least 15 minutes (Kim thinks it was even longer), during which time we watched her yakking it up with various other patrons across the room. When she finally returned, and found us sitting there staring at our plates, she asked something like, "Oh, are you not enjoying your meals?" I said no, we’re waiting for refills on our drinks, to which she replied "Oh, we don’t do refills here; but maybe I could bring you new ones?" So she chose to interpret my request as a wish to have those specific glasses refilled, rather than the obvious interpretation which is we need more to drink. She made it seem like there was something wrong with me, as if additional drink is an unusual request, and she never apologized for disappearing for most of our meal. To top it all off, she charged us for the extra drinks, at $4.50 each -- for soda!
Our final Cape Cod restaurant stop was at JT’s Seafood Restaurant. The sign by the road for this place is fancy, making it seem like this will be an at least somewhat fancy restaurant. But when you get inside, it’s set up like a cafeteria. There’s a big board on the wall with those slidey plastic letters; this is the menu. You order and pay for your food, then go sit down and wait for them to bring it to you. The place seemed decently clean, but the decor was just... ridiculous. The dining room is half tables, half booths, with the booths on a raised level; the walls were white and mostly bare; the music was... I don’t remember except that it was bad. I can’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with the layout and decor, but it just didn’t make sense; things didn’t go together, and it kind of seems like it was someone’s house that they just put some booths and tables into. All of that is subjective so maybe it’s not entirely fair, but Kim and I both just got a weird vibe from the setup. The real problem, though, was that the lobster I ordered came on a paper plate. With a piece of corn-on-the-cob and a biscuit on top of the lobster. And plastic silverware. You have to take everything except the lobster off the plate to start working on the lobster, and of course lobster is a big mess with tons of water coming out of it, which quickly turned the paper plate into a disaster. And the lobster was $20, which isn’t hugely expensive, but I had thought that lobster was supposed to be so cheap in New England.
IHOP, Save Us!
Fortunately, Cape Cod does have a bunch of good chain restaurants. On our way out of town on Thursday morning, we got breakfast at IHOP, and it was wonderful. And we had previously gotten dinner at Outback Steakhouse on the way to Cape Cod, about halfway into the trip; I got tilapia covered in mushrooms and crab meat, which was wonderful, and Kim got ribs -- Outback was great, as it consistently is. And on the cape we did see an Olive Garden, a Pizzeria Uno, and a Friday’s, all of which we like and are usually very good. We should have cut our losses after the first or second disappointing local restaurant, but I wanted to believe we could find something good. But at least we know for next time: pack more campfire food, and eat out at the known-good restaurants.
While researching restaurants before the trip, I did come across an article titled "On Cape Cod, Desperately Seeking Seafood" in the Washington Post; I guess I just didn’t want to believe it:
Quoting The Washington Post:
I presumed the crowds happily standing in line to order were there for the food.
I presumed wrong. The fried clams were indistinguishable from the onion rings, which tasted remarkably like the fried shrimp. After a few bites I felt as if I had rubbed a bowl of grease onto my face.
"You don’t come to the Cape to eat," my husband explained, polishing off his french fries, or were they clam strips? [...]
You have to seek [good food] out, to distinguish by trial and error the few spots that are good from the many that are adequate or worse.
And that’s the problem: Cape Cod is basically wall-to-wall restaurants, and -- in that author’s experience, and ours -- few of those restaurants are good.
A Space Program for the Rest of Us
Writing in The New Atlantis, Rand Simberg presents an interesting and informative insider’s view of the history of our space program. He takes a critical but rational view of the space program and presents some reasonable solutions to some of the bigger problems.
Quoting Rand Simberg:
[With a] space-refueling infrastructure, propellant would be cheaper, flight hardware wouldn’t have to be as heavy, and alternative launch vehicles would flourish. Every year that we starve the kind of research and technology that would make this possible and instead spend our money on mega-launchers like the Ares V is another year that we delay developing a truly sustainable space transportation infrastructure--and becoming a truly spacefaring people. [...]
The Bush administration might have done well to establish an Office of Space Development (with "exploration" being merely a means to an end) that could draw on other federal resources--not just NASA, but the Departments of Defense and Energy--as well as the private sector.
Of course, an independent space development organization with such power would be politically unfeasible. But that is part of the problem: our sclerotic space agency is subject to forces of legacy politics; it protects existing bureaucratic structures and emphasizes jobs over achievement; and it perversely rewards failure with more funds and punishes success with budget cuts.
He makes a persuasive case for the need to reform the space program.
I recently cleaned off my desk and came across some paperwork from our Bahamas trip from 2 years ago.
I like how snails get their own special mention.
This is from the receipt for our kayak tour, which traveled the crystal-clear water of a river that runs to the ocean, and was one of the highlights of the trip; and I just thought it looked neat when scanned:
Idiot's Guide to Skiing
We just finished an awesome ski/snowboard trip to Jay Peak, Vermont with Rolly and Margie. Prior to this, I had only ever skied 3 days (on a single trip in Colorado), so although I’m not bad at it, I was definitely the newbie among this group of veterans.
I skied mostly blue trails and sustained no injuries despite a fair number of falls -- I haven’t skied enough to be very confident at high speeds, so on steep slopes I tend to take a defensive posture and fall as I try to prevent picking up too much speed. That’s not to say I’m always falling, because I had at least a few runs without a single fall, and my falls are always very minor...
...except for when I ended up on icy and steep black diamond trails on 2 occasions (JFK and Upper Exhibition, I’m looking at you), in which case I lost a ski and slid uncontrollably about 75 feet down the mountain. I was finally able to stop the slide, but was still in the middle of the mountain with lots more steep slope to go below me. Fortunately Kim was uphill from me so she picked up my ski and brought it down to me, while juggling flaming chainsaws.
The first day was partially a travel day, so we got in less than 2 hours of skiing. On the second day we skied pretty much the whole day, but by the third day my legs were beat, so I only skied about 90 minutes in the morning and took the afternoon off while the rest of the crew went back out. Unfortunately the last day was 40+ degrees and slightly rainy, so we started the ~9 hour drive home in the morning, rather than getting in a half-day of skiing or boarding as we had hoped.
Having only ever skied out west, and hearing a lot about the icy trails on the east coast, I didn’t know what to expect going into this trip. But Jay Peak gets about 30 feet of snow per year -- far more than many east coast resorts -- and though it was definitely somewhat icy, it was tons of fun.
The other problem I often hear about east coast mountains is that they’re overcrowded, with long waits at the lifts and little time on the slopes; but we went during the week, and it was not crowded at all. We had no waits whatsoever for the chair lifts, and the few times we took the tram we waited maybe 5-10 minutes. There were a few runs where we saw only 1 or 2 or even no other people. Jay Peak is so far north that it’s practically in Canada, so I’m sure that also helps to reduce the crowds from Philly, New York, etc.
So while it may not be Steamboat Springs, Jay Peak is pretty awesome, and much better than I might have guessed that east coast skiing could be. And a 9-hour drive is far better than a 4-5 hour flight, especially considering that a 4-5 hour flight would include at least 2 hours of hassle on each end. If money and vacation time were infinite, we’d spend much more time in Colorado, but reality makes that less feasible, so I can see us going back to Jay for more trips like this.
(Other random observations: the Jay Peak Resort is a Pepsi-serving establishment, which is always nice, and increasingly rare in my eastern-Pennsylvania experience. And they have recycle bins in the hotel rooms; I’ve never seen that before, which is kind of sad really.)
Now about that Idiot’s Guide: when I skied in Colorado for the first time, I had a lot of trouble with my rented ski boots. Apparently the little bone on the outer sides of my feet (below the little toe) sticks out more than usual, and it was really sore by the second day. I had to put moleskin on either side of the bone to take some pressure off it, and figured that I might need to get ski boots that are custom-fitted with a little cutout in that area.
But on this trip, on the first day, I instead just had lots of pain all over the lower parts of my legs that were inside the boots, even though the boots seemed to be the right size and fit OK. On the second day I went back to the rental shop to ask if they could give me different ones in the same size. They told me the original boots were new, so they were better padded and perhaps not quite broken-in yet. So they gave me last year’s version of the same model, which would be more broken-in. They seemed to feel better, but as soon as I walked and skied in them a little bit, I felt that pressure and pain on the bones on the sides of my feet. I took the boots back again, and spent some time talking to the guy at the rental place.
Ski-rental-guy led me to the source of the problem: I was wearing sweatpants under my snow pants, and the bottoms of the sweatpants were inside the ski boots. This was creating pressure points on my legs due to the extra fabric getting bunched up in the boot and then squeezed against my legs. He said that nothing except a good, thin ski sock -- and only a single pair, well-fitted to avoid wrinkles -- should be inside the ski boot. So I got the original well-padded boots back, put them on without the ends of my sweatpants inside them, and the problem was solved! I no longer had to look forward to skiing reluctantly, knowing that my feet/lower legs would be in pain the whole time.
So that’s my first tip (more of a note-to-self, really): use a well-padded ski boot and don’t let the ends of your pants/sweatpants down inside them.
The other problem I had was that my legs were dead by the 3rd day. I’m normally pretty active with exercise during the summers, but it’s harder when it’s cold outside, and I had been going for 1-mile walks a couple times a week for a couple months before the ski trip. Clearly that wasn’t enough; skiing is really hard on your legs, and it requires a lot of leg muscle to be able to exert enough control to make turns properly, and especially to be able to maintain control & quickly re-establish control while skiing in icy conditions. So tip #2 is that you (I) need to *run* a couple miles, a couple times a week, to prepare for a ski trip.
30 Mars Phoenix Discoveries NASA Will Never Show the World
Gizmodo has a nice collection of some of the lander’s important discoveries. Here’s the best one:
From Ars Technica:
According to The Seattle Times, a Craigslist ad was placed last week, offering road construction work at $28.50 per hour in Monroe, WA, a city northeast of Seattle. About a dozen men replied to the ad, and all received instructions to show up outside a Bank of America wearing a yellow vest, safety goggles, a respirator mask, and a blue shirt.
As the men gathered outside the bank within the proper attire, however, another man wearing the same getup used pepper spray on a guard transporting cash from an armored truck into the bank. The suspect grabbed the duffel bag, ran 100 yards to Wood Creek, and made his getaway (floataway?) on what police believe to be an inner tube. Seattle FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs told the Times that armored car robberies are "quite uncommon," and that she’s never heard of an inner tube serving as a getaway vehicle.
Pirates. Real live pirates.
Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen told The New York Times "several destroyers and missile cruisers" had joined a U.S. destroyer already following the Faina, effectively surrounding the pirates. The Navy’s plan for dealing with the maritime hijackers should they refuse to surrender was not disclosed, the U.S. newspaper said.
I don’t suppose that you need to disclose your plan when you’re the one who’s got the several destroyers and missile cruisers.
This follow-up story has quotes from the pirates themselves:
Mr. Sugule said that his men are treating the crew members well (the pirates would not let the crew members speak on the phone, saying it was against their rules). "Killing is not in our plans," he said. "We only want money, so we can protect ourselves from hunger."
When asked why the pirates needed $20 million to protect themselves from hunger, Mr. Sugule laughed over the phone and said: "Because we have a lot of men."
Tubing on the Delaware River
On Tuesday, Maria, Kim, and I drove out to Point Pleasant, PA to go tubing on the Delaware River. Never having tubed on the Delaware before, we (er, Kim) looked it up online and found Bucks County River Country. (Warning: worst website of all time. No, really. Don’t go to the site. If you do, by all means, do NOT click on the high-speed/DSL/Cable version. Otherwise your nightmares will look like this, except that everything on the page will be sliding, spinning, falling, or flying, and there will be awful music blaring without so much as a warning. Besides this one.)
Website aside, Bucks County River Country is a pretty nice operation. You park in their parking lot ($5), pay for the tube ride/rental ($18), get on the bus, and they drive you a few miles upriver. That whole process takes maybe 20 minutes, not counting the time it takes you to put on your sunblock.
You can choose to get off the bus at the 3 mile point, 4.5 mile point, or 6 mile point, which will make your tube trip 2, 3, or 4 hours long, respectively. We got there relatively late in the day (around 3 PM) so our only options were the 2 and 3 hour trips. I was thinking that 2 hours in a tube would be plenty of time, mainly because I thought that by 3 or 4 hours I would be starving to death and dehydrated, so we did the 2 hour trip.
Our 3-mile tubing trip actually turned out to only take 90 minutes though, probably because the river was about 2 feet high due to recent rainstorms. They told us about the water level beforehand, but didn’t mention that it would make the river run significantly faster and therefore make our ride shorter. In any case, the time went by quickly, and we all wanted to stay longer.
Tubing down the Delaware was tons of fun. I say that as someone who loves rivers and lakes, though, and thinking about it, it kind of seems like it’d be really boring sitting there in a tube for hours. But it totally wasn’t, and I can’t wait to do it again.
I had originally planned to get a mesh bag or a small net to stick a bottle of water and some zip-locked snacks into, to tie onto my tube so I wouldn’t die of thirst or starvation during the journey. But their website says you can’t bring in food or beverages and you can’t take cans or bottles on the river. So I was bummed about that, and as I said, that was part of the reason I wanted to do the shorter run. But then when we got there, the girl told us "we’re not very strict", and in fact you can take that stuff with you. They even sell bottled water and rope to secure stuff to your tube, both of which I bought.
Another thing the website tricks you about is reservations: it says they’re required. But we called and they said we wouldn’t need them. It apparently gets crowded on the weekends, but it was pretty sparse when we were there. There were probably a few dozen people on the river with us, but we were spread out across 3 miles and the width of the river, so there were only a couple people anywhere close to us.
One of the guys at Bucks County River Country told me that there are no dams nor waterfalls between Point Pleasant and the Atlantic Ocean, which seems unlikely, but if true, it’d be cool to go all the way out there. It’d take forever in a tube, but still. And while the Pennsylvania side of the river is mostly private property around Point Pleasant, the New Jersey side is mostly public land, so if you brought your own raft you could put in wherever you wanted and go forever. Just remember to take 2 cars and leave one at the endpoint.
Below is a map of our route.
Whitewater Rafting Photos from Colorado
Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bob just sent us some great photos of our whitewater rafting trip in Steamboat Springs. They stood on the shore and patiently waited the hour or so it took for us to come down the river and pass their spot.
Back in PA After Another Steamboat Springs Trip
When you land in Philadelphia after flying from Colorado, the first thing you think is, "Where are all the mountains?" And the second thing is, "Man, there are trees everywhere."
Having been born and raised in Pennsylvania, I have grown accustomed to all the trees, to the point that I don’t even think we have an abnormal amount of trees. But being in Colorado, with its vast open ranges, mountains, and whitewater rivers, dotted but not smothered in trees, I feel like I’m on another planet.
This trip was only a short 5 days, and it stormed or threatened to storm almost every day, but we managed to get in a couple of hikes, a bike ride, a trip down the Alpine Slide, some whitewater rafting, and a trip to the rodeo.
The bike ride and the rafting were both along the Yampa River, which is slow and tranquil in some spots and fairly frothy in others -- it’s considered a stage 2 whitewater, though probably only because of one or two drops of perhaps 3-5 feet. Most of its whitewater sections along the ~5 mile, 90-minute trip are pretty tame; we were neither required nor advised to wear helmets for example. But the scenic beauty of the river, the surrounding landscape, and the charming backyards of Steamboat Springs make it an extremely enjoyable ride even if the rafting isn’t extreme.
During our first hike, at Mad Creek, I got into the creek up to my waist; and at the end of our bike ride I got into the Yampa completely. The water was freezing both times, but it was at least a hot sunny day for the bike ride. When I got into Mad Creek, it was the middle of a downpour. But I generally can’t resist getting into rivers and lakes given the opportunity.
I’d never ridden an Alpine Slide before, but I gather that it’s something icy, fast, and fun in the winter. And in the summer they let you ride down it on these little carts that are about twice the size of a skateboard, with 2 wheels on one end and just friction on the other end, to prevent you from going too fast down the long concrete slide. There’s a single joystick-like control that you push forward to go and pull back on to stop. The track itself is probably a quarter-mile long, just winding back and forth down the mountain.
As we rode the chairlift up to the top, a girl went down the slide below us, going full speed, and wiped out pretty badly right in front of us on the first curve. Some of her arms and legs went over the side of the track, and she ended up with a big gash in her hand and probably some nasty scrapes all over. If I hadn’t seen that, I might have just floored it when it was my turn, falsely assuming that the arched sides of the track would keep me safe all the way down.
The rodeo was pretty interesting and not exactly the redneck-infested event that you might expect, though we weren’t in the south so maybe you wouldn’t expect that. The best part was the "calf scramble," where they invite all the 6-12 year old kids into the arena and then let loose a calf which has a ribbon on its tail; the kid who gets the ribbon wins. There must have been 200 kids and it was a hilarious sight to see the mob of them chasing this calf, which was running for its life. They then repeated this event with kids 5 and under and using a sheep instead of a calf; this had the added bonus of the sheep bounding right on top of the mob of kids as it tried to escape.
On Saturday we had to drive from Steamboat to Denver to catch our flight home. It’s a 4-hour trip, but the country out there is just beautiful, and since our rental F-150 had a line-in jack through which we could play the music on our iPhones, it was a nice drive. We passed through Winter Park, which has a restaurant called Fontenot’s, and I got a dish called Orzo Pasta Salad. It’s a base of cold orzo -- which I’d never had nor heard of before -- with field greens on top, then hot sauteed mushrooms in a "roasted red pepper balsamic dressing," and finally Pecorino cheese on top of that. I ordered it without the actual red peppers, and would have also omitted the onions had I known they would be hiding in it; but regardless it was an amazing meal.
Another great thing about Colorado is the climate: whereas in PA, during the summer, the temperature may go from a high of sweltering 90 degrees to a low of sweltering 70 degrees, in Steamboat Springs it goes from the 80s to the 40s. So you get the nice hot summer days and still have nice cool nights. The pool at the condo was even heated, so while not great for daytime swimming, it was a giant hot tub at night.
It’s difficult to describe just how different and amazing Colorado, and Steamboat in particular, is. It’s huge, it’s wide open, the sky is far more blue, the rivers are clean, and the views, pretty much no matter where you look, are breathtaking: there are mountains everywhere, many of them snow-capped all year ’round. Not to mention the skiing and snowboarding in the winter...
I’ve been to Steamboat 3 times now, and it’s hard to leave. I feel like I belong there. We would move to Steamboat in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the fact that we’d miss all of our family in PA too much. But Kim’s mom would follow us there. So I know I won’t be able to convince all of my family to come, but I figure at least one or two of you would be down for it. Rolly and Margie? Maria? ...Sinjin?
Kim was on photo duty for this trip; here are her albums:
Cheshire has been running around here chasing a fly that was buzzing along the wall. He finally caught the fly while it was hanging around a small table lamp. He batted at the fly with his paws until it mostly stopped moving, and then he ate it. Now he’s running around crying because he can’t find the fly.
Concerning Operating Systems
recently said to me about cleaning out a Windows install vs reformatting:
"It’s like getting rid of a zombie in a building, you can walk around looking for the zombie and take a while, or you can just burn the entire thing down."
It's Dangerous To Go Alone
Someone uploaded this to FileChucker’s file upload demo a while ago: