Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Summer in Review and The Next Big Thing; Africa!

There is only one way to begin this post: LIFE IS GOOD.  

To get to the point in just over a day I leave for Africa, where I plan on spending 1-2 years traveling.  The year began on the the beach in Thailand, then on to India, then to Nepal, then Home. Once home, I decided to keep traveling and had wonderful trips in Oregon, the San Juan Islands, Northern California, Hawaii, Alaska and finally Montana. I'll be celebrating this new years in Cape Town, South Africa!

I mentioned this briefly in my post on my Montana trip, but let me lay out the full story this time.  On the very first day of my 6-month Asia trip, I met Chris from South Africa and we ended up traveling together for a week in the Philippines.  We got along very well, and discussed traveling together sometime in the future, but at a time totally unknown.  Upon my return from that trip, I decided I coudn't go back to a 'normal life' and that I wanted to sell off most of my things and travel the world for a few years. Because I'd never been to Mexico or Central/South America, I was planning on beginning there this winter.  As it happened, while visiting my sister in Montana Chris messaged me on Facebook and asked if I wanted to go on a 4x4 trip through Africa. Naturally I said 'YES!!!' and my next adventure was born.

Right now here is what the trip looks like: I have a one-way ticket to Cape Town, where I will meet Chris and we will spend New Years.  Shortly after, we will head to Namibia for a week or two where we will stay at a friend of Chris's in Windhoek, returning to South Africa for a primer course in 4x4 driving and repair.  Shortly after that, we will be meeting with a fiend of Chris's, Weon (a friend of Chris through scuba diving) in Durban and from there we are planning on spending a FULL YEAR driving north towards Cairo.  Along the way we will pass through Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, and possibility more.  Both my travel partners are scuba instructors, so I will be getting a full setup of  my own and we will be doing a lot of diving.  Along the way I am hoping to meet my new friends Carley in Mozambique, my friend James in Malawi, army buddies of my Tweak3D friend Andrew in Djibouti, my friend from elementary school Jonathan somewhere and maybe more! Assuming we spend a year on this trip, that would put me back into Winter back home in Seattle, and while I love winter, if I don't have a job or something else lined up, I just might spend another 5-6 months on the road. One of my priorities back home in the States is still to live up on my buddy Johnny's place on on Shaw Island, so if I spend a year and a half in Africa, I can arrive in the spring/summer and have a wonderful time living on Island and helping my friend start his farm. That's the theory at least.

So with that background, and excluding the already mentioned trips this summer to Oregon, Shaw Island, Hawaii, Alaska and Montana, let me give a quick recap of my summer back home!

Shortly after deciding to sell off much of my posessions in order to travel the world, it was time to sort through everything and decide what to keep and what to get rid of. This was ended up being the 'donate' pile from going through my dressers.

The beautiful wedding of my friends Kevin and Jamie.  Not only was this the first wedding of any of my friends, it was the first time in a year and a half that I actually got a haircut, haha.

With summer going strong, rope swings were important for keeping cool and having fun.

Visiting my cabin at Snoqualmie Pass with my grandmother Farmor and my mom.

A beautiful evening at Carkeek Park in Seattle.

This was the 'free room' where I stacked all the things I was trying to give away to friends. Here we see Sam getting excited about free wax paper!

While friends are critical, family is just important and I was able to see my family fairly regularly this summer.  This was a memorial event for my grandfather 'Pa'.

My good friends Chad, Sam, Dan and Kelty togeher for one last time before I began taking my place apart. 

My (triplet) brother and sister in town, laughing and looking ridiculous.

Sorting through years of paperwork.

And giving things away on the sidewalk. This was great people watching, I saw middle aged women trying on wigs and using an old jump rope of mine, crazy looking guys taking things just for scrap metal and much much more. While no one took the couches, everything else I tried to give away was taken within hours. Not only did it help me, but I'm sure it put smiles on more than a few faces.

A medieval themed costume party.

And my place finally emptying out. I lived there for around three years and it was wonderful, but all things come to and end and it was time.

My parents were kind enough to let me move in with them which was a wonderful help to me.  While it was a major change to go from my own house to a single room, it was very good for helping me simplify my life.

A rainy Seattle day.  This was an event for the beginning of the end of the Seattle Viaduct, my favorite piece of road in the city.  Part of it was being torn down, and the whole thing will be gone soon so the city put on an event where you could walk up on the road.

By October, winter was beginning and my dad and I went up to Snoqualmie pass for my first ski of the year. We hiked up the Hyak (now known as Summit East) area for a few runs, and I had an absolute blast.

A night of bowling with friends.

Now this day marked a full year of my wearing flip flops. They have become a sort of icon of my travels, and a constant subject of discussion. I bought my first cheap pair in the Philippines the first full day of my trip, and wore those through the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand and my first day in India. This pair in the photo I bought while traveling with Nick an Ellen in Cambodia because I was worried about my then flip flops falling apart at any moment. These got me through two months in India, a month and a half in Nepal including 3 days of hiking in the Everest region, then 6 months in the states. I am still wearing them today, and they have seen everything from the sandy beaches of Maui to the snowy mountains of Washington State. I'm looking forward to seeing how far into Africa this pair lasts me, and then  I have a replacement already set aside that I bought in Hawaii. Flip flops, important business!

Another party with friends, this time with the Fremont crew.

My cats Jack and Sven, exploring the outdoors for the first time in their lives. As a result of this, I'm beginning to believe they prefer the indoors.

Carving pumpkins at Halloween.

My first day of cross country skiing, at Cabin Creek with my dad. 

And my first day of dowhill skiing, at Stevens Pass with Sazzy, Elliot and Hunter.

At this point, the Africa trip is coming up soon and it's time to prep.  Because I'll be needing many passport size photos for the many visas I will be getting, I had about 60 printed out here in Seattle to bring with me. I also got the book Dark Star Safari about one man's Cape to Cairo trip, and my International Drivers Permit.

Another day of downhill skiing with friends at Stevens Pass.

The day after Thanksgiving, we had a 'friends Thanksgiving' where Kelty injected with butter and deep fried a turkey. Needless to say it was absolutely delicious and one of the best parties of the year.

With Christmas coming up soon it was time to get ready. This is me helping my aunt Karen and uncle John decorate their tree.

At the Jay-Z and Kanye West show at the Tacoma Dome. A great performance.

Being Christmas time, my brother came to town from California, so the two of us went shooting. Good old American fun!

Shortly afterward, the three of us and my parents went up to our cabin at Snoqualmie Pass to spend the night.

I had to return to work for Thursday/Friday, but that will be my last day of actually having a job for the foreseeable future. I've said it before, but working for John at Seattle Tree Preservation has been great. I like the work an John has been great accommodating me and my schedule as I've been traveling.  I'll miss the guys, but everyone including the boss is supportive of my trip so that is very nice.

Christmas is officially in full swing.  Here the family is on Christmas night sitting by the tree, the fire and opening gifts. 

That same evening, my friends and I have an annual Christmas event at the Blue Moon Tavern, a Seattle institution.  We have a white elephant gift exchange and it's probably the largest friend-gathering of the year.  This year was especially good for me for two reasons: I missed last year because I was in Thailand, and it was a great opportunity to see tons of friends just before I take off.

One new thing on this trip is that I bought a GoPro Hero2 camera. If you don't know what these are, just watch this video here. I plan on using it mostly for scuba diving, but I know it will come in useful for documenting all kinds of interesting parts of our trip, and will certainly be a new and interesting element to the trip and to the blog.

With just over a day before I leave, I suppose it's time to start packing huh? My Asia trip was a total backpacking trip, but this will be very different.  Most of the time we will be traveling by 4x4, which will allow much more flexability in terms of gear, so as a result I'll be bringing a big more on the trip.  I don't have my full list done up, but I'll have more than a single t-shirt, that's for sure!

Well, that's it for now. My next post will be from Cape Town, South Africa and I can't wait! I don't know what internet access will be like on this trip, but the whole time I'll be taking tons of pictures and video, and will be updating the blog as much as possible.  

Stay tuned, and I hope the new year treats you all well!


Monday, November 7, 2011

A Montana Road Trip

Hi everyone, it's well into fall by now and time sure seems to fly by! It has been just about a year since I first left for my South/Southeast Asia trip and back then I couldn't have possibly predicted how it would change my life.  

Since coming home from that adventure, the summer has been one great trip after another: Oregon, Shaw Island, California, Hawaii, Alaska and Montana. Between and during those trips, there has been a great deal of scheming and dreaming where to head next.  My original plan was to head to Central America, but I recently got a message from my friend Chris who I met on the FIRST day of my trip and traveled with in the Philippines.  Essentially, he said "Hey, I want to buy a cheap Land Rover and drive around Africa, you in?"  My answer was obviously yes.  Nothing is set in stone yet but it looks like I'll be headed to South Africa in January and traveling with Chris for a few months, then in June or so I will return to the States as I'd planned to live on Shaw Island in the San Juans.  No, a year ago I had no idea this would be my life but right now I can't think of doing it any other way.  

But anyways, I recently returned from a trip to Whitefish, Montana where my sister Robin lives, so let me tell you about it!

 I headed out of Seattle at about 8am, not a particularly early start but it was a familiar 11 hour drive so I was in no big hurry.  Traffic was light so I set my Subaru on cruse control and enjoyed the scenery.  Where I90 crosses the Columbia River at Vantage, WA is the Iron Horse Monument, and while you can see it from the interstate, it is just a short walk up the hill to this fantastic view. 

A few hours later I was heading up Lookout Pass where the Idaho/Montana border is and really enjoying the drive.  Around this area the larch trees start, and being fall they were all a fantastic yellow color, fall is here folks!  Shortly after entering Montana, I turned north on highway 135 towards Whitefish and enjoyed a Montana original, 70mph speed limits on 2-lane roads, haha. I watched the sun going down as I passed Flathead lake, and would be in Whitefish soon.

Made it, 552.9 miles later.  Robin was house sitting for some friends, and this would be the base of operations for my week long visit.  It has been a little while since we had seen each other, and I'm the first family member to be able to get out for a visit so Robin and I were both looking forward to a good week. 

Whitefish is a small town, just over 5,000 residents and built in large part around the Big Mountain ski area. It is very much a resort town and it feels that way, but it is a nice, friendly feeling place with a wealth of outdoor opportunities. 

We continued the short tour of town, checking out the cafe and frame shop/art gallery where Robin work, then stopping at Whitefish Lake,  and in the background is the 6,817 foot Big Mountain where Whitefish Mountain Resort resides.

 The next day was a pretty lazy day and I enjoyed getting in some good relaxing time. In the afternoon however, I joined Robin on a ski workout because she is also a ski coach, the job that brought her out to Montana in the first place.  It has been a very long time since I'd been on roller skis, but I had a good time.  After the ski, it was back to relaxing and reading my book.

 On Thursday, Robin and I went to hike up to the top of Big Mountain.  It is a nice walk through the ski runs and between trees, and the fall colors were great. 

Looking down on Whitefish Lake and the town from the top of the mountain. 

 Fall colors on the larch. 

 The afternoon was another workout with Robin and her small ski team, and we went for a nice run on some trails just out of town. 

The next day my sister had to work, so I had the day to myself.  I decided to go into Glacier National Park and Robin and I discussed some possible hikes and things to see in the area since I'd never been into Glacier before.  

 The next morning I drove into the park at the Wests Glacier entrance, and found I was the ONLY person around.  The ticket booth was closed, the ranger station was closed, and I didn't see another person anywhere.  I knew it was late in the season, but this was a bit unexpected, not that it was a problem of course. I looked over Lake McDonald while I decided where to go, and got my first good looks at the park and it's peaks. 

 I drove down the Going To The Sun Road, stooping off at a few view points and getting out to look at the river a few times.  By now, 10:15am, other people finally showed up and I no longer had the place to myself.

 One of the peaks visible from the road.

 The road was closed at Avalanche Creek for maintenance and the usual winter closure, so I parked and decided to walk the trail to Avalanche Lake, an easy 2 mile walk each way.  One of the most spectacular parts of the hike is very early in, Avalanche Gorge.  The rock and water here was just beautiful and I spent a while climbing around and taking photos. 

 Playing in a tree stump.

 After passing through a mature forest that had been hit by an avalanche and laid a tangled pile of logs in its wake (earning the name I guess) I reached the top of the valley.  I sat and ate lunch, then walked to the other end of the lake. 

 Moss covered forest floors, moss draped tree trunks and greenery everywhere. 

 Cool looking ice.

 This is the view from the far side of Avalanche Lake looking back down the trail, what a place and what a day!

Moss and fungus on the forest floor, I love this kind of stuff.

 I'd wanted to do another hike, but I was running out of daylight and decided to go on a bit of a driving tour instead.  I drove through the west side of the park on the Outside North Fork Road.  It was a great drive, going through the burn, seeing many peaks and getting a decent look at a black bear on the other side of the river from me. 

 I ended up in Polebridge, where I got a snack at the delicious bakery, and headed on my way. 

 Here is the view you get from Polebridge, pretty nice huh?

 From there, I turned south again, this time taking the Inside North Fork Road.  I like driving, and this road didn't disappoint.  Miles of single lane twisting gravel through the forest, and I only aw two other cars the whole time.  Because you are in the trees obviously you don't get any of the views I saw on the way in, but it was a nice perspective and took me through a nice area of the park as well. 

 I returned to town and Robin and I decided to go to the Whitefish Community Theater for a performance.  It was called 'Native Voices', and began with live music, then into a sort of single woman play using historical footage on screen to talk about the Native American experience being put in boarding school and then into World War Two.  It was a good performance, going over some sad but fascinating events in American history with regards to how native people were treated, and certainly a story that should be told. 

 Friday, was a total day to relax. I slept in, read my book and didn't do a whole lot else. Part of me felt like I was wasting my time coming out to Montana sitting indoors, but it felt good to just kick back I got over that feeling quickly, haha.  Robin had to work all day, so left to my own devices this was how I spent my day.

 Whitetail dear are everywhere, you can't drive through town without seeing a few in peoples yards.  I watched this particular deer eating and laying about in the back yard for a good half hour while I read my book, until someone else scared her away. 

 In the evening, we were going to dinner with some friends, so we brought some rice, stir fry and a salad. 

 A nice little dinner with the couple who used to coach the ski team Robin took over for.

 After dinner we headed up to the fancy restaurant of Big Mountain for a concert by Chuck Pyle, a folksy, country-style singer songwriter. 

The next day was another lazy day around the house for the most part, but just like visiting my sister Holly in Alaska earlier this summer, I mowed the lawn where I was staying.

In the afternoon we did get out for a short kayak on Whitefish lake, which has inspired a new travel idea, to kayak down the baja peninsula towing a surfboard. I have no idea how realistic something like that would be, but it's fun to think about travel ideas.

The next day we had planned on going rock climbing at a gym, but they wouldn't let us climb without being 'belay certified' by them at a class which took place in a few days. Instead we went to the public library and rented some movies.

Trick-or-Treaters in town.

Tuesday Robin had the day free again, and it was my last day of the visit so we went to Glacier National Park for the day.

When we left Whitefish the weather was good and we'd intended to go to the Many Glacier area, but about half way into the drive it began to snow, traffic was going 20mph and visibility was about 100 feet. Not ideal conditions.  Because of the weather we shortened our drive and pulled into the Two Medicine area instead.

We headed into the park and naturally no other people were around. The weather scares off some people, but not Robin and I! The first place we came into was just inside the park, Running Eagle Falls.  This falls, which emerges from inside the rock, was just a few minutes walk from the road and well worth it. 

Shortly after the falls you come to Two Medicine Lake and the end of the road.  Obviously it was still snowing and we couldn't see much at all, but we were there and while unprepared for snow, both of us being in trail running shoes, soldiered on because  hey, we had driven t his far, might as well do something!

Part of why we did this particular hike was because it lead to Twin Falls, and even if it were snowing we would be able to see them.  The snow had let up by this point in the hike, an hour and a half in, and the falls were great. 

Rather than head back the same trail, on the north side of the lake, we returned via the south trail and had a bridge to cross.  Due to the late timing of our visit, they had already taken the timbers off the bridge, so we had to Indiana Jones it across the river balancing on the steel cables left over the river.  Also, the sun was coming out!

A snow covered plant on the ground. Winter is coming.

And what do you know? The skies cleared up and for the last part of our hike we had beautiful views of the mountains around us.

This is just an old truck I saw on the drive home, I liked it so I had to get a photo. (too bad some jerk broke the window...)

Wednesday morning was the date of my departure, and I wanted to get an early start. Because Robin does the baking at the cafe where she works, she gets an even earlier start, and once I'd packed my car up I met her for some treats for the road.

Rather than heading back to Seattle on the same boring route as I came, I90, I decided to take Highway 2 all the way, and man I am happy I did.

Starting in total darkness I did almost hit one dear, but my reward was this beautiful fog covered lake at sunrise.

Farther down the road, I came across Kootenai falls, where I tried to scout out kayak routes down the water!

I came out of the mountains and hills of western Montana and the Idaho panhandle, into eastern Washington and farm country.  Talk about wide open spaces.

Passing the south end of Banks Lake, very near the Grand Coulee Dam

One of my favorite sections of road and one I am very familiar with, just outside of Leavenworth. 

Me being a very serious driver. Ok, maybe not, but looking serious! Anyways, I really do enjoy driving on trips, and the West sure is a fantastic place to do it. Sure am looking forward to driving in Africa!

And my route for the trip, 1265 total miles.  Surprisingly returning via Highway 2 (the northern of he roads) took nearly the same about of time as I90, and naturally is a much more scenic route.  In snow this obviously would not be the case, but it's a drive I'd recommend to anyone. Overall a very pleasant trip. It was great to see Robin again and check out what she is doing in Whitefish, and a nice low key outing to get me into the mindset of fall and a coming winter.  That said, I'm still wearing the flip flops I bought in Cambodia nearly a year ago, but their days might be numbered as it gets colder and colder!

As for what I am doing next I am not sure.  Assuming this whole Africa trip happens, and I sure hope it does, I will probably just hang out in Seattle until January, minus a few days up on Shaw Island.  I wouldn't mind getting a little winter this year, and I can keep saving up money.  Time is sure flying though, and I'm sure I'll be international before I know it.

Until next time everyone,