Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Yellowstone and the Tetons", or "September Is My Favorite Month", or "Do you even use the National Forests?"

Mr. Buffalo is trying to make his great escape too!

Grant and I made the great escape from Seattle to the Rocky Mountains. We decided to drop down through Yellowstone on our way to Jackson, because we love the Parks. We love them sooo much that we get an annual parks pass every year. We also used to buy a Northwest Forest Pass, which is good for parking fees at the Washington and Oregon National Forest trailheads. A few years ago the National Parks, Recreation areas, and Forests decided to combine their passes into one big "Interagency Pass". The National Parks card comes with a handy dandy rear view mirror hang-tag that allows you to park in said National Forest areas, thus making it truly "interagency". Well, the Yellowstone Park employee only gave us the card, and not the hangtag, making it useless for National Forests. Luckily, as we have bought this pass in years past, we noticed in time to whip around and explain her mistake to her. The ever-helpful park employee sneered, "Do you even use the National Forests?" Umm, is it any of your business? We paid for an interagency pass, and you didn't give it to us! It turns out this lady, and the other Grand Teton and Yellowstone employees, do not give you the National Forest part unless you specifically ask for it. So in other words, they happily and knowingly take your $80 and don't give you what you paid for, nor do they tell you what the interagency pass is! So unless you are like us and were lucky enough to buy it previously at a different National Park (Rainier) with nicer employees, you would never know. She also explained that the foreigners just go home so don't use the forests, so they don't give foreign tourists the hangtag!!! So it's their policy to screw foreign tourists over. I have never been treated this poorly in any country I have visited, and I am embarrassed and angry that the Yellowstone Park employees have this awful attitude. Shame on you! And buyer beware, when you buy your new Annual Interagency Park Pass, make for damn sure they give you both parts!

Anyway, apart from the crappy employees, we love Jellystone. It was a short visit this time, so we focused on the thermal areas. We walked along a thermal site I hadn't been to before, and even made it to good ol' "Old Faithful" in time to see her go.

No soap suds here! (They use soap suds in Rotorua, NZ to make the geysers go off for the tourists. How lame is that?) I wanted to hike to Morning Glory Pool, but we ran out of time. These other pools are pretty, though.

Spasm Geyser

Silex Spring

We saw Buffalo and a few Elk, but no bears this time.

Dropping into Grand Teton National Park nearing sunset was impressive.

Every time I see these mountains after being gone for a while, I am blown away. I say, go to Yellowstone for the buffalo jams and the geysers, but if it's truly magnificent mountain scenery you are after, the Tetons are hands down the best.

But GTNP is also great for animal sightings. The day after arrival I went on a hike to Taggart Lake, and was stopped by a black bear jam (not for toast) just a few miles into the park. It was awesome! Mom and cubs were too far into the trees for a good picture, but it was still fun to see.

Here are some of the hikes and activities we have been doing the last week:

Taggart Lake was a beautiful 4-mile hike. I haven't done all the hikes in the Park yet, but I think if you only have a little time, and are of only a moderate fitness level, then Taggart Lake could be your best hike in the park. It gives you big views for minimal effort.

We also hiked the String Lake Loop, just north of Jenny Lake. It had pretty fall colors, and we saw a wild ferret and mule deer!

For our third day, we decided to head out to the Bridger-Teton National Forest to do a much loved-by-locals hike up to Goodwin Lake. Along the hike, we ran into some hunters on horseback who told us they had been charged by a black bear in this area just the day before. He had his rifle, but didn't want to shoot the bear. She came so close that he was going to give her two more feet before shooting, but she veered off just in time for the both of them! This story was a great testament to proper stewards of the land who respect the wildlife and the wilderness and are courageous enough to stay calm instead of wantonly killing a wild animal in its home. I was almost too scared to keep hiking, but we screwed up our courage (or stupidity) and kept going. It was a very rewarding hike. We saw a marmot, "Teton Chickens" (grouse), horses and dogs, but thankfully no bears.

The last weekend of summer called for some water skiing and beer drinking at Palisades Reservoir, in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest over by Alpine, WY. Grant was looking great on his slalom ski,

and I was beaten up on the tube.

At sundown we all made it over to the hotsprings to warm up before putting our fleece on as the temperature plummeted to fall temperatures. A few mule deer families joined us for a dip in the lake. Lucky for them, the hunters in our group didn't have their rifles, LOL.

It was a great day!

But wait, there's more. We had to cut firewood before it started snowing,

Mosquito Creek, Bridger-Teton National Forest

Notice we do not cut down live trees, they are already dead, and even down when we cut them!

and with one more day of sunshine in the forecast, we topped our hiking off on a 10 mile round-trip hike to Surprise and Amphitheater lakes. I have never come so close to those peaks in my life (though Grant has summited a few of them, a few times). I felt like I could reach out and touch the Grand, but alas, at our elevation of 10,000 ft I was not even halfway up, with about 4,000 more feet to go.  Not to mention the path we were on would take us to Disappointment Peak, not the Grand. It's a disappointment, because when you get to the top, it's a sheer drop off with no way to summit the Grand. I'll save that part of the hike for another time. Gorgeous.

This is what I love about Jackson Hole. We have direct access to National Parks and Forests, rivers and lakes to go hiking, fishing, hunting, water and snow skiing, raft the rivers and go soaking in free natural hot springs. Ok, I just hike and sit in hot springs, but Grant does all these activities! Plus, if you don't feel like getting outside, civilization is also here with great restaurants, movie theaters, and the arts. What a combination.
The pictures speak for themselves, but September is the best time to be here. The weather is warm and stable, the crowds have thinned out, and the fall colors are awesome.
And to the sneering Yellowstone employee, in just one week, we used the National Forest three ways: hiking, boating, and cutting firewood. I can say emphatically and with proof that YES, we do use and love the National Forests, Parks, and Recreation areas, so go sneer at yourself!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A much more deserved, but inadequate, eulogy

A close friend of Grant's and his dad's passed away last night.  I consider him my friend too, though we weren't close.  He had a lot of friends, and though I didn't know him well, I can tell you some of what made him special.

Patrick is the type of person that will catch and hold your attention, and probably have you laughing your ass off, within 60 seconds.  He is open and genuine.  He's not afraid to tell you anything about himself.   He has the charismatic personality that makes you feel special and like you're in on the joke.  He makes you feel like a good friend whenever he talks to you.  And you know what?  You are his good friend. 

Patrick loved to travel.  He loved other cultures, and their food and drink.  But he was no sappy liberal that thought every other culture was more beautiful or more perfect than his own.  He had a lot of insight, and saw the hilarity of what might be wrong, tragic, or just different the way other people and cultures do things, while maintaining genuine respect for them.  A classic example is his "Of course we are having cold beer today" story while in India.  I'll butcher the story so won't tell it, but it's a great, simple anecdote he tells that serves to illustrate a basic difference in our cultures.   It was also just a funny story to tell over beers.  It goes without saying that he had a lot of insight into the hilarity of our own culture, too.

Patrick took you under his wing right away, with no reservations, and without judgement.  One of the small things I loved about him, was he always called me by my high-school nickname even though I didn't know him back then.  He heard it once, agreed it was the right name for me, and called me by it from then on, just like my best friends.  But it always sounded right coming from him.  It gave me that sense we had known each other forever. 

Mostly what I know about Patrick, is that he was always laughing. Even if he was talking ill of somebody, it was through laughter, and never cruel.  Everybody around him was always laughing too, many all the way to the finish line. He loved life.  That much is obvious.  He inspires me to travel and learn.  He inspires me to stop whining, get off the computer, and enjoy life.  Or at least light heartedly make fun of it.

Patrick was a great guy, and he will be missed.

So this ones's for Patrick!  And this one.  This one too.  Boy I'm getting drunk.


Hey everybody, get your colonoscopies!  Especially you.  You know who you are.

Hey English majors, screw you and your tenses.  I can mix my tenses as much as I want in my blog.

Hey Congress, we need health care reform.  Get off your asses and do it now.  

Hey people who don't think we need health care reform.  Shut up.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Life of a Sailor - "So, do you get to steer the ship?"

When I'm Captain, Grant get's to steer!

This is one of our most FAQ's. The answer is NO. Grant is an Engineering Officer, so he works in the engine room. I am a Deck Officer, which means I am in charge of the overall navigation of the ship when I am standing my bridge watch. I cannot fix our position on the chart, do collision avoidance, communicate on the VHF's, GMDSS, and internal comms, or do any number of other clerical work such as logbook entries, if I am standing around steering the ship. And how am I going to know what course to steer if I'm stuck behind the wheel? Ah, somebody has to tell me the course, and that person is me. So I need somebody else behind the wheel, so I can give them a course to steer. In short, no, I don't get to steer the ship.

Me at work. Notice I am not steering.

Proof that what Grant says I do for living is true: I'm heading to the coffee pot for a refill, after which I'll put my feet up and enjoy the view.

In reality, most of the time the ship steers itself. In the old days, (like a few years ago), we would put the ship in auto pilot, and the ship would use whatever rudder it needed, within the limits I input, to keep the ship pointed in the direction dialed in. We still have that option (the old iron-mike), but in addition we have a "Track Mode" or as some people call it, ECDIS mode. Basically, we go to the computer with electronic charts (Electronic Chart Display and Information System) and input our route. This is displayed as track lines on the screen. Once we're pretty darn close to the line, like less than a tenth of a mile off, we switch the steering stand to "Track" mode. Once on Track mode, the ship doesn't just steer a course automatically, it accounts for set and drift, and steers whatever course it needs to keep you on the line. For instance, the track line may be 090 (east), but because of current, we are being set to the south. The ship will then steer a little more northerly, say 088, to make good the 090 track line. And I don't have to do a damn thing. The computer and GPS does it all. Another cool thing, is when we are on a Great Circle route, which plots as a curved line on our flattened out Mercator projection charts, the ship will continuously adjust course along the curved line. Pretty cool.

When we have traffic, or we are too close to land for it to be prudent to let a computer drive the ship, it goes back to auto pilot. I evaluate what course we need to steer to make good our track line or give the traffic an appropriate wide berth, and then tell the AB on my watch what to do. He dials in the course, and checks the magnetic heading. When traffic is particularly heavy, there is a large course change, or we are steering very close to land, I put the ship into hand steering, or what people think of when they ask, "do you get to steer the ship". Now the AB on watch is steering the ship by hand. I give courses, and even rudder orders if needed, and he repeats my orders back to me and tells me when he is steady on course.

My view from the bridge. Hey weekend warriors. Just so you know, when you try to cross my bow, I am steering 700 feet from the bow, and going 25mph, so you might want to rethink your strategy!

Now for a sea story: A few years ago while in Kodiak, we had such a big storm that our ship parted 8 mooring lines over the course of the day (very dangerous, people can die, and one of our men almost did). Our dock in Kodiak is really crappy as there is no breakwater, natural or otherwise, to protect us from the seas that roll in. We had a tug holding us against the dock and our bow and stern thrusters going. The longshoreman wanted to quit, but we still had hatch covers off. It is illegal and just plain stupid to go to sea, especially in a storm, with huge holes into your hull. We convinced them to get the hatch covers on, but they refused to lash the containers as they wanted off the ship. (Hatch covers weigh several tons each, so require a crane to move them.) All hands were on deck securing the containers. I was called to the bridge with the Captain and Pilot to get all the navigation equipment going so we could leave. Well, it was time to go, but we looked around the bridge and realized we didn't have a helmsman! The Captain looked at me and said, "Robin, you have to steer." It had been about six years since I steered a ship, but I hopped on, and apparently did a good job. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the AB finally made it to the bridge to take over. Phew. Just goes to show, we have to be ready to do anything, and perform all job functions at any time while out there. And I must say, if I ever "get to steer the ship" it's because the "shit has hit the fan", so to speak.

A heap of parted mooring lines. The line is several inches in diameter, or was.

View from the offshore side of the ship at the Kodiak dock. Though a nice day today, you can see we are open to any seas or swell that come in. This exposed, even a little bit of swell makes the ship surge away from the dock.