Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Campin' Safari

Mrs Elliott and I are departing early tomorrow morning on a camping trip. We're going to East Park Reservoir south of Redding, Calif.

This is not the kind of place we'd normally pick for camping. Satellite imagery shows a parched land, devoid of of foliage, a reservoir (i.e., not a real lake, unattractive bulldozered banks) in the lowlands. California in August is a hot place at best, and the reservoir attracts power boat people who like speed and noise. Jack does not find speed, in itself, to be interesting, and noise does not appeal.

But Mrs Elliott's kids and their friends are gathering there for Labor Day weekend and we've accepted the job of getting there early to find a big site for the ten-or-so vehicles and 20+ people that are expected. Even my son is driving down from Bend after work on Friday to join.

To cordon off the site, I bought 600 feet of rope from Harbor Freight today. We have a half dozen or so junky but suitable cheap popup tents to place within the area to make it look occupied. I gave brief hope that I could find blow-up manikins to place here and there in lifelike poses, but all I could find were sex dolls.

Our little Westrailia camping trailer is loaded up with just about anything we might find useful. My 1984 VW camper van is fueled and ready.

Two weeks ago the alternator idiot light on the dash lit when we were a few miles up a dirt road near Wickiup Reservoir, but that turned out to be worn-out brushes in the alternator and, wouldn't you know it, I had a spare with me. I put on a new water pump/alternator belt this weekend, and checked all the fluids and stuff so I reckon we are good to go.

The main issue appears to be the weather; or more accurately the heat. It's expected to get to about 100 degrees on the weekend. The camper van has no air conditioning.

I can tolerate temperature extremes, but Mrs Elliott has a fairly narrow "comfort" range. Anything below 72 degrees is "freezing" to her, and if it gets above 85 degrees, she wilts, gets crabby, gripes and moans, and is generally a pain to be around.

We'll see how this rolls.

More to follow . . . .

I Don't Get It

Mrs Elliott and I were watching TV the other night. This being the dead, dry, parched time in TV viewing when there's pretty much not a goddamned thing on, she dialed through the movie listings and landed on Casablanca. It's a fine film and I enjoy it.

But she chose the non-HDTV version and the stupid TV applied its "stretch" mode to the image.

I walked into the room and said, "why are you watching the stretch-o-vision version?"

She said she didn't see anything wrong with the picture.

Here's what Bogart's face looks like:

Here's what the TV was displaying:

"I can't see a problem," she said. 

Really? How can that be?

I changed channels to the HDTV one. 

Monday, August 29, 2011

First Time Visit Back to San Diego

Mrs Elliott and I moved from San Diego in 2008. Until this weekend, I had not re-visited the place. But I had to fly down on Friday to take care of some business, and I just got back last night.

Guy at the rental car place wanted to know if I wanted to upgrade from the base model. "I drive a 1984 VW van," I told him. "This is an upgrade."

I was curious to see if my feelings about the SoCal had changed.

What I learned is that, no, nothing has changed. The charms of San Diego, and SoCal in general, escape me. I don't find it in any way attractive. Sure, the ocean is pretty, but there's only a super-thin sliver of coastline compared with the hundreds and hundreds of square miles of traffic and buildings inland. The rest is sere hills, endless encrustations of crappy-looking stucco houses, billboards, and strip malls (Oh my god the strip malls are everywhere!). The driving style is binary: on and off: they are either flooring the gas when the light turns green, or jamming on the brakes for a red. And crowded. So many people, so much pollution. Sales tax, pump your own gas, glary moisture-laden skies.

When the day came in 2008 to to move up here, I could hardly wait, and hit the road feeling like I had finally escaped from a long, long nightmare. I felt exactly the same way yesterday when I got onto the plane.

When I deplaned, I smelled the perfume of the junipers and felt the crispness of the air. And Mrs Elliott was up, waiting for me. It was good.

I don't get SoCal's attraction. It has many fans, and I'm happy that they are happy to live there. But I could not find a single thing I missed.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

They Said There Would Be Thunderstorms, Updated Photo, Bulletin BKs.

Finally. A decent peal of thunder. I know that for firefighters and property owners in the outback, lightning is a bitch. But I love it. I love dramatic weather. So while others may be watching the skies with trepidation, I welcome the flashing and crashing. I'm weird that way.

Speaking of which, my new profile photo (on the right) is the best so far, dontchathink? Mrs Elliott took that shot last weekend. Do I not look a little unhinged?

It's a good thing.

Oh, BTW, Duncan: I noticed the Bulletin's announcement that they are seeking bankruptcy protection. We know someone whose wife works at the paper and learned about the filing early this morning. I could-a blogged about it but there's little for me to say, so I leave it to you to do what you can to draw attention to this bit of irony. They got caught up in the same go-go real estate bubble that they, by command of their advertiser overlords, helped promote. A paper that lives by the advertisers, dies by the advertisers. Fuck 'em. (Jack pauses, recognizing that the paper employs people he knows, and he doesn't wish for one of them to lose a job. May they come out of this stronger and perhaps a little less willing to sell their souls to the almighty dollah. It's really BofA Jack wants to see buggered with a cactus.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Sateen" Sheets Troubling

Mrs Elliott just put some new sateen sheets on the bed. I'm not certain what "sateen" means: Satinesque? Pre-satin? Post-satin? Anyway, it's a fabric with a shiny finish.

The damn stuff rustles like gift wrap tissue and feels dangerously slippery.

The wikipedia tells me that, "Better qualities [of sateen] are mercerized to give a higher sheen. Some are only calendered to produce the sheen but this disappears with washing and is not considered genuine sateen."

A good washing in hot water with strong detergent will not only show whether these things are mercerized or calendered, but maybe it will make the stuff feel better. Cheap and scratchy, like low thread-count standard cotton. That's how I like my sheets. Less chance of sliding out of bed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Return to the Backcountry

I feel fit as a fiddle and ready for love. 

Over the course of the past 10 months, I've shed 55 lbs, and my right ankle, which was surgerized in 2009, is fixed...in both senses: it no longer flexes and is no longer a source of pain. 

I'm back on my sweet little road bike, bipping around town and exulting in how responsive it is and how light and strong I feel. 

And I'm thinking about doing a little backpacking. 

I started backpacking when I was teenager and loved it. I enjoyed the whole thing: poring over maps, planning routes, buying guidebooks and reading descriptions of places to backpack, assembling the gear, making menus, counting calories and ounces, buying food and re-packaging it for easy meals; and when the morning of the trip arrived, I awoke early and eager to go. 

The first day on the trail was always kind of a struggle. The second a bit better. By the fourth day I was settled in and in the groove of hiking and resting and making camp and sleeping and breaking camp and hiking more, always looking ahead to see what was around the next corner. I hiked around Yellowstone Lake by myself when I was 28 and there were times of uncertainty and exhaustion, and there were times of sublime beauty and comfort. 

My last trip was with my son and stepson about six or maybe eight years ago, in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, out of Bishop. It was a weeklong trip and the kids were still young. It was an in-and-out (as opposed to a loop) trip, over New Army Pass to Soldier Lake. Really, really beautiful. 

I kind of considered that my last trip.  My ankle, which was becoming increasingly painful after any extended standing or walking, was crippling me: even an evening of standing while preparing a fancy meal for friends resulted in excruciating pain the next morning. On the hike I kept it tightly wrapped and consumed a whole lot of Ibuprofen. 

My backpacking days were over, figured. And after moving to Bend I shed much of my gear. The good stuff went to my son (he still goes on backpacking trips with his friends [I think he caught the bug from me]) and I discarded the rest. 

I kind of regret that now, because the itch has returned. This is a gorgeous area to backpack in. There are mountains and streams and lakes and trails galore. From San Diego, access to this kind of country required a six hour drive, minimum -- and always through Los Angeles, nature's punishment for people too simple to realize that are lobsters in slowly heating water. 

And I'm-a gonna scratch that itch. The stars have aligned. My ankle is fixed, my weight down, my energy good. My son has allowed that he'd enjoy going on an overnighter with his old man. 

That last time, I outwalked him. This time, I suspect that he'll be politely waiting for me. 

I'll pull out what gear I have remaining and see what I need to acquire to put together the necessities. I know my hiking boots are gone, probably my hiking poles, too; stoves and sleeping pads are likely vanished, but I do have a pack and more than one down sleeping bag; and I have feelers out to the likes of the peripatetic Bob Woodward* and others for recommendations for an easy one-night trip out to some sweet lake or streamside destination where a fellow can unpack a mummy bag and build a little fire, light a fattie and enjoy the silence and beauty. 

It will be a test, a test to see whether the old man still has enough horsepower to climb up and down trails, and whether he can get a decent night's sleep on a Thermarest pad without heavy medication. 

But why not? I feel good now, not plagued by various ankle and knee ailments or  excessive weight. Right now I feel energetic and strong and inspired. And I'll be goddamned if I'll let this opportunity pass.  

Of course, I might end up being one of those stories on KTVZ-TV Channel 21 news:

"A 61 year-old Bend man strayed off the trail while hiking with his son in the Three Sisters Wilderness and has been missing for three days. Search and rescue teams are combing the area, hoping to find him before the grizzlies and snowstorms find him first. McKenzie Williams has the story. McKenzie?"

But it's unlikely. I'm an experienced backpacker, know how to read a map and a compass, I have a GPS, and I've only gotten lost in the backcountry maybe four or five times.** 

So in a few weeks, after the tourists and other assorted riff-raff have retreated back to their dismal urban ghettos, we're hitting the trail. 

I'm excited.  

* Actually his wife is the fount of knowledge about trails hereabout. 

** Yeah, I've gotten lost a few times. The first or second time you get lost you panic. By the time you've gotten lost the third or fourth time, you just look around, check the map again, and sigh. If it's late, you find a likely place to camp, preferably with water as dry camps are tedious, and hope to sort things out in the morning; if it's not too late in the day, you study the geography, try to match it to the map, and if nothing makes sense, backtrack until you find where you lost the trail. Simple, really -- it's plunging ahead that gets folk into trouble. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Little Camping at Little Cultus Lake

Mrs Elliott reading at Site #6.
Mrs Elliott and I went camping last weekend. Well, I actually started the trip on Wednesday, the better to get a choice site at the popular Little Cultus Lake US Forestry campground in the Deschutes Nat'l Forest. Mrs Elliott joined me on Friday, right after lunch.

I got a pretty decent site. Like all popular USFS campgrounds in high season, these places tend to fill up starting Thursday, and by Friday night the good sites are gone. The bigger, more popular USFS campgrounds have reservable sites, but Little Cultus Lake is first-come, first-served. So one's best odds for finding a good site is to arrive midweek.

It's a pretty location, though we feel that we have outgrown fee camping where your neighbors are within eye- and earshot. These days we find that we prefer undeveloped "dispersed" campsites where you're all alone along a stretch of lake shore or a river. With roads too rough for giant RVs and a total lack of "facilities," only the best-equipped campers who are willing to bring their own toilets and water are found. Such campers have learned to shrug off the herding instinct that prompts most campers to cluster together.

But for this trip, since Mrs Elliott was coming by separate car, we elected to go to a known place. The dispersed campgrounds are scattered and often hidden and I had little confidence that she could find where I had settled, but might instead find herself wandering dirt and gravel roads in the forest with no idea where I was. Her navigational skills are not very strong, having little sense of compass bearings, and most of the places we go don't have cell service or any other way for me to send GPS latitude/longitude coordinates or directions to her.

So she arrived on schedule, and it's always nice to have her with me.

We pooted around the lake in my little red kayak and an inflatable watercraft with miserable oarlocks and stupid little cheap oars. Next time, two kayaks.
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