Archive for the 'Travel' Category

The Mountain Goat Incident

Rainbow over Rainier: a portent of danger!

In July 2003, my friend John and I went on a an overnight trip to Spray Park, a flowery alpine area on the northwest flank of Mount Rainier. We went for the wildflowers, the glaciers and the beautiful landscape. Little did I know it would bring me face to face with mortal danger!

The hike in was wonderful. Clear skies and pleasant temperatures made the strenuous ascent a little easier. We passed up through the treeline, past waterfalls and alpine glory.

The requisite waterfall shot.

Eventually, we broke through the trees and found ourselves on the glaciated flanks of Mount Rainier. We were lucky to find a perfect campsite adjoining the glacier. We had a clear, flat area and access to water. We spent the evening shooting photos, playing songs on our kalimbas and watching the golden hour of sunset pass over the top of the world.

Sun sets before Rainier, which stands reflected in our little camp pond.

The night went by without incident, but John was taken ill. He caught some kind of nasty cold. The next morning, he put down some coffee and biscuits but informed me had no energy to continue up the mountain. There was a plaque at the top of Observation Rock (the rock jutting up on the right in the above photo). The exact elevation at that point is 8,364 feet and I thought it would be a cool idea to climb up there and see if my fancy new altimeter wristwatch was really accurate.

I would have to do it alone.

Approaching Echo Rock.

My plan was to head straight out of camp, then hug the glaciated area along the base of Echo Rock. I would then follow the gently rising slope in the upper center of this photo to Observation Rock. I wanted to hug Echo Rock because the ascent was easier and the shadowed area had firmer snow on it. Up I went.

Once I got to the shadowed area at the base of Echo Rock, they appeared…

MOUNTAIN GOATS!

A herd of mountain goats appeared over the scree above Observation Rock and headed right toward me! The digital zoom on my lousy camera could not do justice to the apprehensive atmosphere they created. They were marching right toward me!

Like most city folk, I wasn’t sure what the protocol was for dealing with mountain goats in the wild. Do you run? Do you puff out your chest and make noise? Do you climb a tree? What? I had no idea. So I just kept my mouth shut and hoped they’d walk past me. They didn’t.

Closer and closer they came!

They crossed the glacier and moved just above me. Here you can see the Alpha Goat regarding me with disdain. It was at this point things got really weird. The Alpha Goat bellowed to his flock: “Follow me! We will destroy this intruder!”

And so began the onslaught. These enormous beasts sidled past me and climbed up the scree above me on Echo Rock. At first I thought they would simply climb up and away from me. I was wrong.

Once the entire herd had mounted the scree, they started kicking rocks down onto me! I had to side step, duck and leap like a running back. Huge rocks bounced up all around me, many nearly clipping my head. I had nowhere to run. I backed off, but that’s where the rocks seemed to be landing. If I stayed forward, they mostly bounced over my head. And besides, I was afraid the whole herd would rush me if I ran.

An enraged goat grimaces at me mockingly.

I was unable to capture photos of the actual rocks flying at me because:

  • I was busy leaping, ducking and sidestepping.
  • I was in fear for my life.
  • Fuck the camera! I had bigger problems.

But I did pull out my camera a couple times to get fast, lousy photos of the goats. My hands were trembling, which didn’t help. However, I got a few more shots off. This one was the most shocking:

A baby goat forced into homicidal rage.

Most of the goats – about 15 of them – were kicking rocks down at me. But the baby mountain goat refused to engage in the cruelty. I continually moved below the baby goat because it was the safest place to be.  Then, one of the goats ambled over to the baby and started head-butting it and bleating loudly at it. He was saying “Kick rocks at the human or consequences will be severe!”

To my horror, the baby goat complied and kicked a few small rocks at me!  The rotten turncoat bastard!

An angry goat sizes me up closely.

The cavalcade of scree started to slow down. I had evaded their reign of terror. The goats now knew I was made of sterner stuff than they had expected. As the rock attack abated, I got off one more “angry goat” photo and started backing away slowly.

To my relief, the herd dismounted the scree just above me and started back up the glacier, curving out and around Echo Rock.

I stood victorious as the failed assassination broke up and the goats fled.

I took some very long breaths that morning as the goats gave up and headed back up the glacier. I didn’t know it, but far below my friend John was watching the whole thing from his telephoto lens. He was prepared to mount up and haul me off if I had gotten beaned by a big rock. I was in good shape back in 2003 and my 20-mile-a-week jogging habit had served me well. The five aspects of fitness: strength-endurance-speed-balance-flexibity. You need all five at times like these!

Off they go in search of a weaker human.

After they were gone, I took a few minutes to collect myself. I was uninjured, but I was still a bit shaky. I sat down on a rock and looked across the glacier. Just ahead was Observation Rock. The whole damn point was to climb up that stupid rock and I wasn’t about to turn around now. Not after all this shit.

I decided to get my act together and scamper up the rock.

Observation Rock beckons!

The hike across the glacier and up the rock was uneventful. But once at the top, I found I was not alone. Two Irishmen – Fergil and Tim – who were touring the North Cascades had been up there for some time. They offered me hot tea and snacks, which I greedily consumed.

Fergil sorts his gear.

I didn’t mention anything about the recent incident. Instead, I mentioned my cool new altimeter watch. I needed to see the plaque and see if the numbers matched. We jumped over to the plaque and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my watch was only off by about 10 feet. My sea-level calibrations had proved accurate!

We all sat down and quietly enjoyed the day when Fergil finally mentioned, with typical Irish understatement, “Bit o’ goat trouble back there, eh?”

I smiled. “Yeah”.

Then we all broke up laughing. They had watched the whole thing from Observation Rock. Apparently, I looked like a real fool jumping, ducking and sidestepping the goat rock attack. Yeah, laugh it up. It’s different when it’s your ass on the line against an enraged baby goat!

The boys and I loaded up. They were heading around the west of the mountain and I was heading down. They took a photo of me and we went our separate ways.

A rare photo of your humble narrator in the wild.

John was glad to see me back at camp. I told him everything that happened. I think he found the whole thing adventurous and was sorry he wasn’t there, but I put his mind at ease and assured him it was much uncooler than it looked and sounded.

We broke camp and headed back down to civilization. On the way I got a few nice photos.

In the end, adventure can be sought but sometimes it is thrust upon you. Be ready!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fuck the Olympics

Hooray for money!

Sadly, Olympic fever has once again gripped an otherwise reasonable city and turned it upside down. This time, the cheapened whore is London. Now, some of you may point out that I’ve never had much love for London, and that’s true. While I adore England, I’ve always found her capital to be a gray, grotty, sloppy amalgam of a city. It’s like there is no British vision whatsoever in the city. Which probably explains the massive influx of foreigners to “Londonistan” over the last three decades.

So sure, no love lost between me and London. But that doesn’t mean I would wish something as baleful and crass as the Olympics on her. I don’t particularly like Wichita Kansas but I would never express joy should a tornado rip the city apart. I’m an aesthete, not an animal.

London 2012 logo or Lisa Simpson sucking a dick? You decide!

Don’t get me wrong: I love the concept of the Olympics. I love the idea that young athletes can excel in their chosen sport and prove themselves to be world-class on a global stage. Hell, it makes me well up just thinking about it.

So why the anti-Olympic rancor? Because the Games and the process have been hijacked by politicians and corporations. And because this hijack is unnecessary.

Let’s start with the most odious of the processes: the city selection by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). This once-proud organization has degenerated into a cynical, corrupt panel of craven scumbags. The Salt Lake City and Beijing selection processes were so corrupt that journalists worldwide had a heyday documenting all the subterfuge and bribery.

Not only is the selection process tainted, but the very idea of world cities vying and bullying their way to Olympic glory is, in my mind, an idiotic process that should be abolished.

It’s sickening to watch. I have a better idea:

Since the Greek economy is about to go down the toilet and potentially take all of Europe with it, let’s bring the Games back home. Let’s make the Olympic Center in Athens permanent. After all, they invented the goddamn Games. Every four years, the Greek economy will get a massive boost with only a fraction of the capital expenditures that are wasted when a city builds an Olympic village from scratch.

The Winter Olympics can then be set up in the Alps. We can let Cortina D’Ampezzo and Chamonix host every other Winter Olympics. Done deal.

Now, some people will get all weepy because we aren’t “spreading the Olympics” all over the world. But like most weepy bullshit, this is just weepy bullshit. It’s the COMPETITORS that matter, not the location. The Olympics will be as international as ever. Young people from every corner of the globe will still have an opportunity to show the world how great they can be. It will be totally awesome and it will become something of a pilgrimage for people who love sport.

Athens will become a new Mecca. Young kids will dream of Athens. The legacy of the original games will connect these young people with a Democratic history going back thousands of years. It will be meaningful and wonderful.

Bring it on home, people!

So anyway, once the corrupt and evil IOC city selection process is finally ended, we can solve the next evil and corrupt problem associated with the Olympics: wasteful civic construction.

When a city hosts the Olympics, it has to build massive stadiums, massive villages, massive transportation solutions and massive security details. All for five weeks of Games. Five. Weeks. People are displaced, homes are destroyed, neighborhoods are altered and massive debt is incurred.

After that, the host city is stuck with massive walls of worthless bullshit. What do they do? They can’t fill them. They can’t lease them. The tear it all down. Yes, the Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles has held up for generations. But that arena is the exception that proves the rule: Olympic construction is a boon for contractors and temp employees and a total waste for taxpayers. The trail of disused, overgrown, wasted Olympic construction sites is endless. And sad.

Look, honey! It’s a cheap plastic piece of shit designed specifically to rip money from our pockets and into the greedy maw of a giant corporation!

Additionally, if we can site the Olympics permanently at Athens, we won’t need all that capital from all those scummy corporations. I wouldn’t dream of banning all corporate sponsorship; athletes need infrastructure for training and guidance. But the Games themselves do not need to be festooned with Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical and BP Oil advertisements every 8 yards. If a company wants to support Olympic athletes, it should do so and feature advertisements that tout what nice fucking guys they are. But that’s where it should end. The Olympic site itself should be free of logoism and the dreary drumbeat of corporate cheerleading. After all, it’s supposed to be about the Games, right? About the young people? Remember them?

Which brings me to my last bitch about the Olympics:

Bringing you the Olympics we think you should see, you common scum!

NBC has the world’s shittiest Olympics coverage, bar none. I’d rather watch full Olympic coverage from Serbia or Laos even though I can’t understand their languages. I can understand a country wanting to highlight its own successful athletes. But NBC has warped its broadcasts as badly as North Korea. It’s all-USA, all the time. It’s pathetic. They think we’re too lazy, stupid and single-minded to enjoy the opening ceremony or something as “foreign” as fencing. That’s why I don’t bother watching the Olympics on NBC. I’m lucky enough to have Canadian broadcasts dribble into my TV. CBC does a MUCH better job than NBC.

I think NBC needs to let go. The Olympic Games should be broadcast by PBS. After all, they are our “national” broadcaster. I’m sure PBS would do a fine job highlighting America’s best competitors without turning it into a circle-jerk rah-rah session.

In sum, fuck the Olympics. We can do better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Case for Virginia

Here’s the challenge: if someone has never been to America and doesn’t have the time to see every corner of our vast country, which one state would you recommend they visit to get the most rounded appreciation of what America is all about?

Which single US state offers a sincere glimpse into the American way of life with lots of cool, interesting things to see and do?

Difficulty: California is too big too see in less than two weeks.

"Thus Always Unto Tyrants". It's so welcoming!

I’ve given this a lot of thought and the answer is Virginia.

Right now, most of my American readers are screaming. They have another state in mind. Probably California. But they are wrong. If you have never been to America and you want to know what “average” America is like while still enjoying some recreational fun, Virginia is the best choice.

Here comes the Case for Virginia!

(note: I’ve only been there twice and I am not employed by the Virginia Tourism Board)

History

How many Monticellos does your area have? Hmm?

European skeptics like to sniff at America because we are ‘inauthentic’ and have no history worth mentioning. These snobs have never been to Virginia!

Virginia was founded 400 years ago. It isn’t as storied as Rome, but Virginia is no Silicon Valley, either. It’s old. From Pocohontas and Capt. John Smith to Washington and Jefferson, Virginia is a microcosm of early American history.

In fact, Virginia is so fucking historical that there’s too much of it to outline here. Tourists will be tripping over colonial mansions and Civil War battlefields until they finally land in Colonial Williamsburg.

Williamsburg may be a tad schmaltzy, but it’s far less offensive than those bell-ringing turds in livery who stand outside European museums. Take THAT, you snooty French academics!

If you have any interest at all in American history, Virginia is practically the goddamn epicenter of it all. You just can’t miss.

Recreation

Virginia Beach doesn't suck!

Millions of Brits flock to Florida every year to escape the grey and loll in the sun. Once their discount airfare gets them there, the poor saps pay a premium for the privilege.

Not so in Virginia. Virginia Beach is reasonably priced and offers a less crushing experience. You’ll see plenty of hot bikini chicks as well as plenty of scary fat people, which is why you came to America in the first place.

Most importantly, Virginia Beach attracts middle-of-the-road American visitors. You won’t meet too many snotty rich people; nor will you have to abide a bunch of ghetto trash. Instead, you will come belly-to-belly with middle class America.

If you have kids with you, Busch Gardens and King’s Dominion should replace your Disney desires without robbing you blind. There’s a couple of big zoos and enough water parks to float your trunks for weeks.

For adult fun, Virginia is for Lovers. It’s true. I know because I once banged a chick from Virginia. And man, she was HOT. If you visit Virginia from overseas, use your sultry accent to score a Virginian. You wont regret it.

Culture

It ain't much, but it's all-American.

No. Virginia is not renown for the arts. But it is the home of GWAR, so that’s gotta count for something.

Yet Virginia is a diverse place. Despite its slave-holding past, about 20% of the population is black, 10% is Latino and the rest are white or various shades of world workers in the industrial northern part of the state. What this means is the outsider will meet a wide array of people.

You won’t like them all. Some of them are jerks. But most of them are nice and actually do believe in exuding some form of southern hospitality. This is where the visitor will really learn something about America. That’s what defines us: ethnicities all jammed together and trying their hardest to get along despite the evolutionary call of the tribe.

We have no Tito or Stalin to force us to live together. Instead, America (and Virginia) tends to unify under Christianity. You’d be a fool to visit Virginia and not check out some churches and even some public church events.

They will likely freak you out. Some churches are…charismatic. But even an old atheist like me knows that life in the South (and most of America) is defined by its churches. In Virginia, it is the neighborly call of Christ that binds them. It shapes the one cultural aspect they all share. Sniff all you like, but if you want to understand America you better learn to understand her strange affinity for this wacky religion.

Landscapes

Are you kidding me?

What Virginia lacks in high culture it makes up for in varied, beautiful landscapes. Bring your camera because in this one state you will be framing misty mountains covered in greens and yellows, lonely roads winding through ancient farms, mighty estuaries racing into the Atlantic, waves crashing on sandy shores and Neoclassical buildings rising up against the azure sky.

Yes, Arizona has deserts and Maine has craggy shores and Texas has endless brush and Colorado has majestic peaks and California has big trees. But Virginia has almost all of that stuff and it’s all within a few hours’ drive. Virginia wins again!

And then there’s DC…

Washington DC

Giant-ass domed buildings? Yeah, we got that shit.

As you head north, you leave behind the mountains and farms and enter something truly American: enormous suburban developments, godawful strip-malls and gigantic glass-and-steel office towers. This is the epicenter of the might that is the government of the United States. Defense contractors, lobbying organizations and massive federal agencies ingest and disgorge hundreds of thousands of busy bees every day. It’s a madhouse. Drive carefully.

Just beyond is the nation’s capital. Enjoy the irony of the grinding poverty in her ghettos. Shake your head at the ostentatious displays in our inauthentic public spaces. Marvel at the galaxy of junk in the Smithsonian and gawp in disbelief at the massive jets suspended inside the aerospace museum.

You want world-class museums? Yeah. We got that shit.

DC is worth a visit, but it’s not more American than Virginia. Seriously.

It’s the People, Stupid

Happy Virginians at the recent presidential inauguration

I’ve been lucky to meet average folks in Europe and Japan. I’m an average guy, too. Weird, but average. And meeting my fellow average people gives me a much greater sense of a nation’s culture than meeting its service workers or representatives or immigrants.

When foreigners visit America, I’d like them to see cool stuff and have a good time and meet average Americans. They’re not the salt of the Earth. They’re not particularly noble or bright. They aren’t even very pretty.  But they are the genuine article. They are the are the distilled remains of our history and they are the real faces and real voices that betray all that Hollywood crap you watch on your satellite dish.

These people are hard to find in New York, Florida and LA. There’s plenty of them in the Midwest, but Virginia has more to offer than Iowa does. Sorry, Iowa.

Truth be told, I don’t personally give a rip about Virginia. But if some accountant from Ghana told me he wanted to see America but only had two weeks and no desire for long journeys, I wouldn’t hesitate.

Virginia, man. It’s America in a bottle.

You Virginians can now tell me how right I am; the rest of you can tell me how wrong I am.