Saturday, June 28, 2014

I wanted to take a picture, I truly did.  But one gets a bit startled when one encounters somebody in a full rabbit suit miles into a forest hike and on the opposite side of a swift moving river.

I know, you're mentally trying to explain it to me already.  "Oh, he must just have it to keep warm."  Sure, semi-reasonable except that this was a hot summer day.  "It was just a little kid."  No, it was a full sized adult.

Jeanne and I were hiking in Central Oregon near Paulina Lake; one of two lakes that form twin craters near Bend, OR.  It is a place of beauty with a plethora of hiking trails, waterfalls and viewpoints.

Now I've encountered unusual things while hiking before.  The thoroughbred that was in full run down a rocky desert trail with nobody around.  The strange industrial chemical container that looked like a meth ingredient.  But this was a first.  It's not everyday you encounter somebody in a full furry rabbit suit walking along the forest.  Are we sure there aren't cameras rolling just outside our view?  

Jeanne thought I should snap a photo and I wish I had but I was just too befuddled and the opportunity passed as we got out of there quick.

Still, when not witnessing the bizarre, this area is wonderful for outdoor activities.

One of the waterfalls along the trail

Us...minus our rabbit suits...

I always enjoy a trail that follows very close to a river or stream.  Not just because it's beautiful but it usually means I don't have to hike straight up some mountain either

Nice views looking down on the lake

Friday, June 27, 2014

Just when you think you've seen it all, think again.  Having lived in Oregon, I've hiked my fair share of trails.  Those trails are very green.  Here's a picture of Oregon from overhead:

Okay, I might be exaggerating slightly.

The point being that while I have walked trails through deserts, forests, jungles, urbanization and beachfront, it wasn't until a visit to the Virgin Islands did I run across a trail that you simply couldn't walk.

The place was Trunks Bay, British Virgin Islands on St. John.  Jeanne and I were on a Caribbean cruise for a couple of weeks.  Whether you like cruises or not, they make it possible to get a sampling of a variety of the islands in the Caribbean.  Simply flying or moving from one island to the next is much more expensive and who wants to be stuck on one for days should you not care for it.

Anyway, we had a stop at St. Thomas.  Rather than fight with the rest of the tourists heading for the trinket booths where desperate locals hoping to sell mass produced stuff nobody really needs, we opted to head over to St. Johns and visit Trunks Bay.

This is a post card worthy bay.  In fact, I have a post card of it but don't tell anyone I buy post cards after I just condemned the purchasing of trinkets.  Anyway, one of the novelties in the visit was that they had a snorkeling trail.

That's right, you swim along the clear waters and underground signs, in English, guide you along a trail at the bottom and point you to various fishes and coral.  I guess somebody concluded that tourists like me generally just point to a specific fish and say, "Look, there's a blue one" or to a coral flower and say "There's one that looks like an exposed brain..."

I actually enjoyed it although in the back of my mind I resented being cattle driven through the ocean on a specific route with a specific itinerary.  It's that part of my that says that I am not cattle to be driven somewhere.

"Let the fish get used to your presence and more will appear"?  I used this same principle back when I was didn't work that well then either.
Here was a trail without picnic tables or benches to stop and have lunch.  The only lunch that might be served on this trail would be you should the wrong type of fish wander in.  Of course, any dangerous sharks were unlikely to be in that area so I shrugged off the worry the same way I don't worry about the airplane suddenly dropping out of the sky.

But seriously, there are only a few places on the planet that have created underwater trails.  I know they have some around England.  There may be others.  If you get the opportunity, add it to your completed bucket list!  

Oh...and the trail bench...I guess I was mistaken about that too...apparently in Austria divers flock to a clear lake created from snow melt that submerge the winter bench underwater.  Go figure!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

You see it in their expressions.  It's that blank stare as if you are talking a foreign language that they have never been exposed to before.  Who are they?  They're the "non-travelers".  Now, if you are here reading this, chances are you are not one of them.  Not that there is anything wrong with them.

Neither of my parents travel.  In fact, my father has only been on one airplane flight in his entire life.  I'm sure they're thinking to themselves, "Now why would he want to go off and fly half way around the world?  What's fun about that?"

In reality, it's just like anything else.  I personally can't understand why anyone would stay in a non-lit, smoke-ridden, clock-less casino gambling for hours on end.  I have no concept of why people enjoy hitting golf balls around an artificially created environment other than the single appreciation that no matter how bad a place is, the local golf course will have some semblance of nature.

Now not all of the "non-travelers" think we are two slices short of a full pizza pie and should be seeking treatment.  Some of them might actually, secretly desire to travel too but they are locked down by "the fear".

The can almost visualize it playing out various scenarios in their mind.  There they are, at some foreign airport and they've....oh-my-God....missed their connection!!!  Here's the gruesome scene (we'll call the non-travelers "NTs" for short):

Foreign Airline Attendant (FAA):  "I'm sorry sir, but you've missed your flight."

NT:  "It wasn't my fault, the last airplane just sat on the tarmac FOREVER!!!"

FAA:  "Your last flight wasn't an affiliated partner of our alliance, sir."

NT:  "No, you don't understand, they said they were doing a safety check...for two hours.  That's why we were late."

FAA:  "Did you fill out an IS-4034 form at your local consulate before flying?"

NT:  "Huh?  What?  I don't know what you are talking about."

FAA:  "I'm afraid, without the form or a legitimate flight on our airline alliance, you must stay in our holding room forever."

NT:  "Forever?  But I have a passport.  I'm a US Citizen!"

FAA:  "No sir, you are stuck in between.  There is no going forward.  There is no going back"

NT:  "Aaaahhhhhhh!!!!!!!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jump!” I hear him scream...

But standing on the ship railing and looking down into the black frothy water as 70mph winds whip up 12 foot swells is not what I consider ideal swimming conditions.  In fact, the reality is that a person only has a minute or two in that 45 degree water before they succumb to the effects of hypothermia.  Hypothermia is far too big of a word for me to die of.  It would not look good in my obituary and so I’m considering the situation at my own pace.  He was right though, I had to jump eventually.  There really was no option left.  

I rehashed the unfolding events that got me onto a railing preparing for a crazy jump in the first place.This was not your typical brochure driven adventure trip.  In fact, it was not even
a choice.  No, this was my first real exposure to travel and it came via the Coast Guard on 370 foot cutter designed to patrol the Alaskan coastline in search of fishing vessels illegally fishing for protected species within our borders.  We’d fly around until we found a foreign fishing vessel and then there would be a race to international waters.  If we won, we’d board them, count fish and if they got caught with illegal fish we’d seize the vessel, deport
the crew and ultimately sell off the seized items.  

And that meant cruising around the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea.  Yes, that same body of water that spawned the reality show in the USA, “Dangerous Catch”.  Let me just
say this about that:  

They were not over-dramatizing the environment.

Chances are most of you will have never stepped onto any of the Aleutian Islands and likely never will.  They are remote, they are rarely warm, they lack a lot of facilities.  They don’t even have much in the way of trees on them thanks to ravaging winds most of the year.  Then again, if you enjoy a feeling of true remoteness or are into birding or WWII history, they might be on your own bucket list.  Personally, my bucket list almost always involves sandals and fruity rum drinks.

Thanks to two years on a Coast Guard Cutter going up to Alaska, I've seen more than my fair share of the Aleutian Islands.

But back to the story...

Our ship was riding out a fairly severe storm.  They don't call them hurricanes there; the weather generally sucks most of the time so why bother.  In this particular case, the wind and waves were a bit too rough to sail with them coming at us from the side so we just let the weather carry us down wind and ride out the storm.

That works great unless your family calls the Red Cross and insists that you be home for a family funeral.  When the Red Cross requests, the Coast Guard has to deliver.  But the only way to get me back the the USA was to bring a smaller Navy ship out to where we were and have them smash into the side of our boat while I jump from one ship to the other.

Yes, that's right, the military, in their infinite wisdom, concocted this scenario and commanded me to do the jump.  So imagine you're standing on a narrow railing in a howling, freezing wind, with rain pelting you sideways and you have a superior officer barking orders on when to jump.  AND HE'S TELLING ME THIS WHILE THE SMALLER BOAT IS SHIFTING AWAY FROM OURS!  

Yeah...this is pretty much how I remember being told to jump...
I was never really one for following orders and this wasn't the time to change.  No, I waited and did so on my own timing.  It wasn't a simple hop over either.  Our ship was a good eight feet above the deck of the other.

I tried to keep my mind off the reality of death should anything go awry.  I took the plunging step and it felt like dropping forever as the Navy ship again crashed into the side of the Coast Guard ship.  

My landing was uneven but I rolled overhead across the deck and avoided any breaks, sprains or other bodily injury.  It took several minutes for the adrenalin to stop pumping and I wobbled into the ship.

The adventure wasn't quite over though.  The Navy ship was low enough to be able to navigate into the target island, Adak, but the seas were too rough to be able to moor up to the dock so again I got to jump from the ship to shore.  Let's just say that wet wooden docks don't make great landing spots and I skidded across it like it was a slip-and-slide.

Adak is an island pretty far out on the Aleutian chain and at the time there was only a Marine Base on the island.  Basically you had a wind-blown landscape of rocks and low shrubbery with concrete buildings to serve as the base.  Getting to the island itself didn't get me home.  The weather was way too bad for anything to fly out so I got to spend a lovely evening at the base.

This is NOT Adak, this is Dutch Harbor.  You can actually visit Dutch Harbor without a military escort.  But this illustrates what the terrain of the Islands look like.  These days, the Adak military base has since closed making it that much more remote and desolate.
They did have a skating rink in the gymnasium but I thought the fact that they did a "couples only" skate a bit unusual considering there were no women on the entire island.  Perhaps these Marines had been out here a bit too long.  I opted not to skate and waited until the following day when I caught an AEW&C plane.  These are those planes that spy on everything.  They're basically just full of electronic sensor equipment.  There's no first class, no business class.  There's not even coach class!  I crawled underneath one of the surveillance systems and went to sleep.  It was actually warm underneath it.

While they didn't allow me to personally take any pictures, this is what it looks like inside the plane.  Needless to say, they weren't serving any complimentary beverages....or providing an extra seat either.
I can't say the Bering Sea was on my bucket list and I can't say that I would have EVER sought out visiting any of the Islands, but after years of traveling to more appealing destinations, I am glad I got the opportunity to experience them.  I could have happily skipped the jumping adventure but what the hell, it makes for a good story now.