Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Holy Crap!  That cut my scalp," I yelped as I saw the blood on my fingertips from scratching my head where the talons had just glided by.  

In a panic I bolted across the street to the nearest porch and rang the doorbell.  No answer.  I swept the blue sky to see if it was safe.  Nothing.  I quickly made a dash up the sidewalk towards the next house.

It came out of nowhere and flew by my head in a blurring, screeching noise that caused my to stumble.  I got to the second porch and knocked on the door.  No answer again.  With sweat trickling into my eyes and my pulse in overdrive, I paused to recompose myself.

"This shouldn't be happening," I told myself.  And I was right.  This was a typical neighborhood in the middle of the Bay Area in California.  

I was taking some time to go for a run on a fine sunny weekday morning.  This was the first time I'd ever been attacked by a bird while running.  It wouldn't be the last though.  Only this wasn't your ordinary craze-panicked Robin or Blue Jay protecting their young, this was a full-sized Falcon!

Why there was a full-sized Falcon in a neighborhood in Alameda, California I had no idea but it was there and it was after me.  Sure, they don't look like much from your cushy couch watching Wild Kingdom reruns but let me be the first to clue you in on the terror of having one claw you across the top of your head and then circle back for more.

As you can see, not a lot of protection from attack here...
Alas, it was just one more page in the why-in-the-hell-does-this-stuff-happen-to-me journal of my life.  I really didn't know what to do.  Nobody seemed to be home anywhere.  Do all these people really have jobs?  I thought all Californian's were rich and retired!  Would the Falcon attack me on the porch?  Would the police think I'm insane if I called them?

Lots of stuff goes spinning through your head when you're being hunted.  The only logical conclusion I had was that I had unwittingly run by its nesting area somehow.  Surely I couldn't be the only person to do this.  I hadn't seen a pile of bodies from previous encounters stacked up anywhere along the way; claw marks running down their dead pale skin.

I snapped back into reality and made another mad dash across the street to a tree that was large enough to provide cover. Crap!  It was waiting in a tree just next door and I could see it launch as I started my sprint.  This time though, I was able to dive under the tree in time and as near as I could figure, the Falcon had taken a strategic overhead position waiting for me.

Do you see a lot of "wilderness" for Falcon breeding here?
I looked up and down the street of nicely manicured homes.  There wasn't a single person in sight.  I was already zero for two by ringing random doorbells.  So I crept past the first tree and stayed under two more just beside it.  At the end of the trees I made a sprint for the next porch I could see.

I looked around.  The Falcon was flying in a circular motion but he wasn't attacking.  I rang the doorbell.  Again, nothing.  I stood there shaking with adrenalin, waiting, watching.  The seconds bled into minutes and felt like hours.  After what seemed like 20 minutes but was probably only 5-10 I slowly stepped out and chose to walk slowly down the sidewalk.

Nothing moved.  My eyes darted from tree to tree, power line to pole, rooftop to chimney but he was nowhere to be seen.  I walked on gingerly and cautiously.  Still no sign of the Falcon.  Eventually I moved into a slow run and continued my run, taking a right down half a dozen streets so I could give a wide berth to the area and return back to my start.

To this day I have no explanations and never heard of any other sightings in that area.  The scars healed, time marched on but the memories are there and as vivid as the day it happened.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Oh look, you cut yourself," I said looking at Jeanne's ankle.  "Wait a minute, is that a LEECH???!!!!"  Sure enough, while hiking through Mossman Gorge in Queensland, Australia, Jeanne had somehow picked up a leech.

We were visiting at the tail end of the dry season so it was pretty unlikely to catch a leech this time of year.  Had we been hiking this same trail during the wet season, the entire trail would have been crawling with them.  In fact, the locals told us that during the wet season they also drop down out of the trees and onto you.  "Best wear a wide-brimmed hat," they advised matter-of-fact like.

The leech was tiny; smaller than a small-size caterpillar.  It wasn't one of those huge ones I remember seeing in the scene from the movie "Stand By Me."  Still, the thought of something sucking your blood doesn't bode well with most people.

Mossman Gorge is located North of Cairns, Australia up near the Great Barrier Reef.  It is located in a lush jungle gorge as you head up to Cape Tribulation.  This jungle is one of the oldest on the planet.

The river and gorge are a popular swimming destination for locals and tourists alike.  The primary reason is that the water is safe.  There are no crocodiles that will suddenly snatch you "down under" without warning.  That is a real possibility anywhere near the ocean waters that feed it.  Wrestling crocodiles for my life isn't on my bucket list either!

It's also an incredible place to shoot photographs.  The beauty of the Gorge, the rocks, the crazy roots, the fig trees and their fin-like roots that travel above ground for long distances in search of Earth they can penetrate.  The area is very rocky.

Yes...this actually is the trail...
It had rained just the day before we arrived and the Gorge was still damp.  That breeds leeches we later found out so we were lucky to only have one actually breach our skin.  But the drenching also meant very few tourists and the whole trail practically to our own.  I swear the feeling hiking around there was something out of Jurassic Park!  I half expected to spy one of the pesky meat-eating dinosaurs lurking in the jungle undergrowth.  Turns out the only things I did see were a might bit smaller...

He "thought" I wouldn't notice him...think again, Mr. Lizard, think again!
Not exactly a Jurassic Park Dinosaur...but perhaps a baby cousin...
Though the trail was a bit difficult to navigate with its roots and rocks, being from Oregon we were very accustomed to dealing with such hiking and had no other problems.

Roots have trouble reaching Earth due to rock so they snake to where they can
I'd say this was one of our non-beach highlights of our time in Queensland, Australia...minus that damn leech of course.

Just a little make-shift bridge I made along the way to help cross this gorge... ;)
Yeah, I could have done like other tourists and pretended to be holding this boulder up...
This impossibly large fig tree is threatened just from humans hiking around it...sort of like Redwoods are
Amazing what the fin-like roots would do to find a place to dig in... I couldn't resist just one cheesy tourist pose...

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Again?  How many super-storms must I endure?" I thought when I saw the weather projection.  I was in Taiwan for a 17-day work trip, my first, and low and behold but a typhoon comes right to the island.  Oh, and not just some typhoon, this happens to be Super Typhoon Zeb; still on the list of the top 15 largest storms ever.  And this wasn't my first rodeo with top 15 storms.  I'd already been directly through Hurricane Gilbert in Cancun, Mexico in the late 1980s and that too was larger than Katrina.

Now having been directly in a full Cat-5 storm, I know exactly how terrifying that is.  Last time the wind blew parallel to my hotel window and the sheer force of 170mph winds blew the rain through the window frame and flooded my room.  The noise from that one was so horrific I had to take turns listening to music on headphones so that I didn't have to hear the freight-train like storm directly overhead.

Out on the Coast...not exactly your wading in the water weather...
So fast forward many years to Taiwan and here I go again.  Only this time I was in Taipei and had a mountain range protecting us from the brunt of the full storm.  After many hours trapped inside the hotel while the city shut down, I got bored.  It didn't sound bad outside?  I convinced a friend of mine to venture outside for a walk.  How bad could it be?

They have those "run away" signs at the coast for a reason...
So unwittingly we took off down the street thinking, "this isn't that bad at all."  Block after block we headed and nothing.  The streets felt eerie.  Normally this is a bustling melting pot of urban dwellers going about their busy lives.  Today they were silent and empty.

A friend of mine plays "Superman" as we notice a downed
tree stump that wasn't down when we first started our walk
After about 10 blocks we rounded a building corner at a side street and got blasted by a ferocious wind.  It was enough for both of us to quickly say, "Run away"...and so we quickly made our way back to the hotel.

We did get a chance to do some tourism despite the storm.  The weather preceding it and after was just fine.
But on the way back, it was if the typhoon had been stealthfully and secretly following us on our "stupid walk" because with each block we retraced, there existed carnage from wind damage.  Trees were blown over, motorcycles toppled, statues laying in the street.  When did this happen?  We were just here and it was fine!

Crap...this eliminates nearly all Walmart shoppers...
Just before we got back to the hotel the wind swept through a side street and poured onto our main street with a vengence and happened to catch a motorcycle that was as stupid as we were for being outside.  The motorbike crashed into the street right in front of us.  I quickly went out to help but they didn't seem to want any help and quickly fled away.

The obligatory "stand in front of the monument" photo pose...
We made it back to the hotel without further incident and after another 24 hours of boredom watching the cockroaches scramble out of the sugar bowls in the dining room, the storm finally blew over.  The general consensus was that we journeyed while the eye was over and then got caught as the back half of the storm ascended and just got lucky we weren't in a spot when the winds amped back up again.

I think the work dinner to Hooters happened just so they would have fun
at how we would explain THAT to our spouses back home...
The thing about hurricanes and typhoons?  They don't last a really long time and beyond the devastation they wreck, weather-wise things return back to normal pretty fast.  We had the opportunity to get in some touristy visits during the remainder of our stay.

I never knew Edward Scissorhands lived in Taiwan...
I must confess, I haven't been back to Taiwan since.  I half expect that if I do, another super-typhoon might come to visit me.  I seem to attract them...

Everything is crowded in Taiwan so why shouldn't the local pond be too?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Shhh...don't tell anyone but my secret trail in Washington has old growth, a beautiful river, no hills and very few people.  Living in Portland, Oregon USA I am surrounded by lush green forests with spectacular hiking opportunities.  Waterfalls are a common sight.  Rivers are in abundance.

But if I want to escape it all and really feel nature, I have a secret place in Southern Washington that I go to recharge in the summer and fall.  It is the Lewis River Trail and is about 1.5 hours drive outside of the Portland metro area.

Now most people would suggest hiking up some mountain for some spectacular view.  I've done those hikes and yes, the views can be spectacular, but most days I don't feel like killing myself slogging up some mountain and then blowing my knees out on the way down just so I can have some brief vewpoint.  So I look for river hikes because they tend to be flatter.  I like the water flowing by.  The closer the trail is, the better!  I recently hiked a "river trail" and all the trail did was parallel the river at a far enough distance you really couldn't see it for 95% of the time.  Ridiculous!  Why call it a river trail at all?  The point of a river trail is to actually hike by the river itself...duh!

Anyway, most people from Portland would send you into the Columbia Gorge area.  That is an area of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation that is just east of Portland.  It is along both sides of the Columbia River.  The Columbia River is one of the longest rivers in the USA and divides Oregon and Washington.  These "people" would probably send a would-be hiker enthusiast to Eagle Creek and that would be a great choice as it has 7.5 miles of spectacular river hiking among amazing waterfalls, one that the trail even goes behind it through a small cave where the trail got carved out of the cliff-side.

The trail goes through the tunnel behind the waterfall!
The only thing about suggesting and doing Eagle Creek is that 15 miles is a long hike for most people and most of the time there are so many people hiking the first few miles you'll feel like your in some outdoor mall on Black Friday fighting to get to the next door-buster sale!  The effort and the crowds tend to turn off a lot of people and so even though this might be my single-most favorite hike ever, I avoid it.  It's not my sanctuary.

The fallen tree was so large its end seems to hang in space over the trail
Instead, the Lewis River Trail, located off remote Hwy 90 North of Carson, Washington can be reached by driving a bit further than the Gorge and you will experience very few people.  Most of the people on the trail are mountain bikers.  The trail is a joint-use trail and I've found that I've never had any problem on it between hikers and bikers and I've tried it both ways.

Some of the fallen trees are large enough to use as your own trail...
One of my favorite spots is an old camping building (that has since been restored) and inside is a picture of some fisherman on the same spot from 1912.  It's a testament to just how few people go on this trail and the nature of the people that this photo has stayed there all these years without somebody stealing it.

Sitting next to an ancient Cedar tree
The trees along the trail have been spared from logging so you have 800 year old Cedar and Fir trees to hike among.  The forest canopy in this area is more sparse and so it lets in more light and feels a bit like somewhere along Middle Earth where you might see an Elf or a Hobbit perhaps or differently, maybe you'll run into Robin Hood.  Of course, that hasn't happened but it has that peaceful relaxing vibe about the whole place. It isn't just a bunch of spectacular natural beauty features, it's the entire experience along this trail that makes me long for relaxing summer or falls days hiking under the giant trees with the river flowing endlessly on.  So tranquil...

Start of the trail, nothing grand about the trailhead at all.
Vibrant Orange fungi...apparently they are edible't try them
Not deep...but plenty cool on a hot day

Through the ferns, moss and giant trees along the riverside...

The trail follows this close to the river for miles...

Make-shift bridge across a feeder stream

Camp spot rope swing into a calm portion of the river

More vibrant orange fungi...

Some of the fall down require a little maintenance to get through

A convenient slot so mountain bikers don't hit their head