It’s been too long without photos in the journal, so here are a couple from the 2014 safari in Tanzania that didn’t previously make it online:
Two weeks ago I returned to the Carrizo Plain with Audrey to catch the height of this year’s superbloom. The flowers did not disappoint.
The 2017 journal is off to a rough beginning – February already fell short on the three-entries-a-month goal, and March is getting a late start. Here’s a recap of the past month that hopefully explains why writing about myself hasn’t been a higher priority:
- March has had three weeks of travel, including two trips to San Antonio and a trip to the Bay Area. The first portion of the Bay Area trip was spent working in a hotel in Sacramento, where I got to visit with younger Holliday, admire his house, and eat a lot of grilled mahi. After leaving him I made a quick stop to ensure that Ma & Pa had working wi-fi and virus-free laptops before heading into San Francisco for a three-day conference; the parents put up with me for another night after the conference ended, but I can be a handful so the intermission was likely a good respite for them.
- The conference featured all things Google Cloud. I went in skeptical, and shockingly emerged a complete convert – Google is going to own the corporate internet in another five years, and when Skynet becomes operational it will probably do so from a Google data center somewhere. In the midst of learning that I need to come up with a plan to capture part of the tsunami of work that is going to be available as companies transition their IT infrastructure, one of my co-workers managed to find the best ramen I’ve ever eaten, so the trip was a success on many levels.
- On the drive home from San Francisco it seemed silly not to see if the record rains had caused a Monet to happen on the grasslands, so a detour was made to the Carrizo Plain. Soda Lake has been dry on all of my past visits, but this time I got to see placid waters shimmering in the light of the full moon before Suby III and I spent our inaugural night under the stars together. The next morning when the sun arrived it was clear that the wildflowers were just beginning to bloom, and while they were pretty a return visit might be necessary.
- Finally, in rodent news, I’ve spent two weekends roaming around on the roof looking for rat entry points. Two weeks ago I taped my phone to a pole, and by maneuvering it into an inaccessible space behind the gutters I was able to see (via video) a previously undiscovered gap. I then spent the next hour crawling through fiberglass insulation in a sweltering attic to an area so claustrophobic that there wasn’t even enough room to lift my head. I jammed a rag into the gap in the rafters, crawled slowly out, spent an inordinately long time ridding myself of fiberglass, and then sat down to savor my victory. That night at 8:30 the rat showed up again on camera and did his own victory dance to ensure that my shame was infinite. The following weekend’s efforts involved a trip to Home Depot, an attempt to remove the gutters without causing permanent damage, a massive quantity of sealant foam, and a valiant effort to re-attach the gutters in more-or-less the condition that I found them; time will tell if that endeavor has finally brought the War of the Roof Rats to an end.
The 2016 Man Trip finished up yesterday with a morning visit to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a virtually unknown national monument west of Bakersfield. The park is home to Soda Lake, which is supposedly an internationally-known area for birds, but the last time I visited it was completely dry. This time I left Bakersfield and spent an hour and a half meandering through the hills, oil fields and solar farms of Kern County before arriving at Soda Lake, which despite several recent storms was still bone dry; I think I heard the universe laughing at me.
Despite the dry lake it was still nice to be reminded how nice silence is – the modern world is constantly filled with the sound of cars or appliances or planes, but you don’t realize it until you’re in a place that is just completely still, and I sat at the end of a boardwalk for about an hour just enjoying the peace. Afterwards I wandered a bit more before pointing the car towards home, where I’ll hopefully get some rest and recharge before starting off the 2017 work year.
I’m pretty sure that the entire San Joaquin Valley reeks of cow manure. Someone really needs to look into it, because it can’t be benefiting tourism to have things smelling poopy.
Woke up at 5:30 this morning, an hour before my alarm, since the universe likes it when you see the sun come up. Merced National Wildlife Refuge was the sunrise destination, and Kern National Wildlife Refuge was the sunset destination, and both were chock full of birds and people shooting at birds (duck stamps help pay for wildlife refuges). Wedged in between those two visits was a giant biscuit at the Black Bear Diner, because it wouldn’t be a man trip without a manly breakfast.
Two weeks ago Audrey and the Holliday clan gathered in Kauai for snorkeling, beaches, sunsets, tropical beverages, and a really great waterslide. Here’s part one of the recap:
My mom is a night owl, going to bed after midnight, while my dad is a morning person, waking up around 5AM. Thus after flying across the Pacific and arriving in Hawaii, it was no surprise when I entered their timeshare at 10:30 PM Hawaii time (1:30 AM Los Angeles) that my mom met me energetically at the door while everyone else was sleeping. She was clearly disappointed and unsuprised when I declined her offers of dinner and conversation and instead crawled into bed. The next morning at 5AM my dad attempted to sneak out the door, only to have his two sons pounce on him before he could get away, but he didn’t seem too disappointed to be taking his boys along to see the sunrise. When we got to the beach a dark shape was silhouetted against the barely-brightening sky, and it is to my dad’s everlasting shame that he insisted it was a monk seal even after we said it looked like a sea turtle. Several more of the large turtles were resting on the sand further down the beach, making for a pleasant welcome to the island as the sun turned the sky pink while an army of roosters announced their presence to the world.
The day’s other activities included multiple rounds of snorkeling, massive fish burritos from Da Crack, a cat on a surfboard, and drinks at sunset. All in all not a bad way to start the trip.
Day two again started with an early wakeup and another trip down to the beach to see the sea turtles. There was more snorkeling, more tropical drinks, etc, but other days had more journal-worthy moments so let’s move on to Day 3.
The previous day I had moved from Ma & Pa’s timeshare to the Hyatt next door, picking up Audrey from the airport in the evening, while Aaron and Helen relocated to an Air B&B rental on the north side of the island. Audrey has the amazing ability to defy jet lag, so she was having none of my arguments that getting up at 5AM was the same as getting up at 8AM in Los Angeles, thus I roamed around the hotel grounds at sunrise before dragging her out of bed at 6:30 and heading off to our fancy hotel breakfast buffet next to the koi pond. From there we were off to do some snorkeling, then we meandered our way around the island to see Aaron, stopping to photograph the Autumn mist in Hanalei enroute. With the full Holliday clan present we attempted a bit of snorkeling off of the beach near the beginning of the Napali Coast, but choppy waters had reduced visibility to only about ten feet, and in an underwater landscape filled with lava cracks that looked like they might descend hundreds of feet it was hugely disconcerting to wonder what might be hiding down below. When Aaron called me out for saying that it was an uncomfortable place to swim I told him to follow me out into the murky water – hundreds of feet offshore and notoriously afraid of sharks, the sound he made as we swam over rocky ledges that descended to unseen depths was something between a whining puppy and a bawling child; we turned back fairly quickly.
Audrey’s one request prior to starting the trip was that she wanted at least one “lounge day”, knowing that otherwise I’d do my best to ensure that each day would end with us collapsing from exhaustion after non-stop activities. Thus, Tuesday saw us hanging out at the resort pools, where Audrey read a book while I set the Hyatt master’s record for most rides on their water slide in a 24-hour period – all of the five year olds seemed slightly peeved at the bald guy who made their wait in the line a bit longer by going down the slide again and again.
Wednesday was our scuba diving day. Sadly, because someone is sued in America every 0.2 seconds, they wouldn’t let my dad join us once he checked one of the “do any of the following apply to you” boxes on the release forms, so Audrey and I were the only family representatives underwater this year. After many scuba trips to Mexico with rental equipment that inevitably leaks Audrey and I have become reasonably good on air, so as the other divers in our group ran out of air and had to surface we ended up getting a lot of underwater time to ourselves. We saw sea turtles, fish, corals, and lava caves, but the highlight of the two dives was a giant moray hiding in a crack in the rock – the thing was so massive that as I was swimming over I first wondered what a seal was doing in the rocks, before realizing we were seeing an eel that would be bigger than most sharks if it chose to come out and play.
The recap for the rest of the trip, including the story of how Poseidon God of the Sea sent a magical wave to assist my dad and I in returning our kayak to shore amidst raging seas, will follow shortly in the next journal entry.
After several months without much excitement, airport security will be seeing me a lot during September and October:
- 1-September: After the second of two consecutive work trips to San Antonio my plane returned to LAX Thursday night at about 6PM, leaving ample time to do laundry and re-pack for the next flight about 36 hours later.
- 3-September: I dragged Audrey to LAX in the morning and we departed for a long weekend in Seattle. After landing we grabbed a rental car, checked-in to our shockingly nice hotel, and then I drove us up to Everett to see airplanes at the Boeing factory. Audrey and I usually try to meet each other halfway in our planning, but in this case she knew better than to suggest alternatives when I told her we’d be spending the afternoon with airplanes. Seeing a factory full of giant jets in various stages of assembly had me basically running around screaming “AIRPLANES AIRPLANES AIRPLANES” for a few hours, and whether it was the impressive sight of the massive machines or the less-impressive sight of her dorky boyfriend having a complete geek-out, Audrey seemed OK with the events. Afterwards, since I’m a lot to deal with under normal circumstances and can only imagine what a handful I must be when I become a grown-up three-year-old, I made sure she got a nice seafood dinner on the water as the sun went down over Puget Sound.
- 4-September: I haven’t been to Mt. Rainier in more than a decade, so we set off to roam around on a 14,000 foot volcano. Mother Nature conspired to keep the mountain mostly hidden behind clouds, but “Paradise” is not mis-named, and the mountain meadows and marmots made for a pleasant journey, even if I did go all environmental nutjob and yell at a couple of foreigners who either couldn’t read or were ignoring the “don’t walk on the fragile meadow flowers” signs. After a full day of walking up and down the steep slopes of the mountain another nice dinner was again called for, this time at our fancy hotel restaurant.
- 5-September: The long weekend concluded with a day spent roaming around Seattle, including a tour of the “underground city“, created after the 1889 fire when they rebuilt the city by raising street level about ten feet, entombing the first floors of a 30 block area. The day concluded with a trip up the fourth-tallest building in the world (or at least it was, in 1914), with the journey made in a period brass elevator that had see-through walls and a wide-enough gap between elevator and building to put the word “plummet” front-and-center as you stepped inside. The top of the Smith Tower offered great views from an open-air, wraparound deck, and decent drinks at a speakeasy-style bar. When we finally returned to the hotel, dinner consisted of a shared cheeseburger, since not every night needs a fancy meal.
- 6-September: Audrey got to sleep in before her flight back to LAX, while I set off bright and early for a flight to Spokane. I work remote the majority of the time, so my first visit to the new Commerce Architects office was a chance to finally meet several employees who I’ve worked with on a daily basis for months but wouldn’t recognize if we were sitting next to each other in the same room. Cost of living in Spokane is significantly less than in California, so the Spokane office (located in a historic building) put the old Berkeley digs to shame, while the hotel I stayed in was on par with some of the nicer LA hotels, but about one-third of the price; with three senior partners living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Spokane, they clearly made a tremendously sensible choice on where to set up shop.
- 7-September: The rest of the CA partners arrived to begin two days of company meetings, followed by a team outing consisting of a dozen people on a pedal-powered trolley roaming the streets of Spokane and visiting a couple of local bars. Afterwards the five partners gathered for a super-fancy dinner, something that is apparently a tradition for those rare times when they all get together. My previous lifetime best was four courses in a single meal, and over two-and-a-half hours this dinner beat that record by two. I made it back to the hotel stuffed, tipsy, and happy about my recent career choices.
- 8-September: Day two of meetings included a team lunch and plenty of administrivia, after which it was time to depart for a 6PM flight back to LA via Seattle.
One week in, September is off to a roaring start. My flight back from Spokane landed at 11PM, I’ll work a nearly-full day today, then after a glorious eighteen hours home it’s back to the airport for the next phase of the month’s adventures. There’s just enough time to do laundry and pack – life has gone from slow to fast, and it should make for a fun month.
July 2016 hasn’t had a ton of excitement in it, so here’s a look back at this month in years past.
- July 2015 – This time last year the New Horizons spacecraft was zooming by Pluto, sending back some mind-boggling photos of the farthest object humans have visited in our solar system.
- July 2014 – In 2014 I spent the first half of July roaming around Turkey, and by the end of the month was starting on a two week safari in Tanzania. 2014 alone provided enough great July memories to ensure that I will never be able to complain about any slow years.
- July 2008 – I dragged the Skipper halfway around the world on a trip to Iceland to see puffins and glaciers and geysers. How Iceland isn’t a more popular destination for nature travelers is a mystery – I’d go back in a second.
- July 2002 – The month this journal was born was the month that the Great Alaskan adventure kicked off. It’s rare that you have an experience that you know will change your life, and I was insanely lucky to get to spend a full three months on a journey with full awareness that it would become a defining moment in life.
Death Valley received unusually heavy rains this year, resulting in the first “superbloom” of wildflowers since 2005, so of course I wanted to go to there. After plans with Aaron and my dad fell through I concocted a scheme whereby I would drive to Las Vegas on a Thursday night, work from Vegas on Friday, and have Audrey fly in so that we could drive to Death Valley early Saturday. With this genius plan in place I made the long slog through LA traffic to Vegas, and then spent Friday working from a fancy room at the Palazzo Hotel that had a mostly-great view, with the exception of giant gold letters spelling out “Trump” staring back from the high-rise on the opposite side of the Strip.
Audrey arrived mid-afternoon, and after dinner and a search for the dumbest slot machines we could find (the “Reel ’em In!” fishing game won that contest) we went to bed relatively early, woken only by the sounds of what was either a troop of crazed chimpanzees or else a drunken frat party in the room next door; they departed at 11PM, but returned at 3AM to ensure that we wouldn’t have to worry about getting too much sleep.
I was randomly in Death Valley at the height of the 2005 superbloom, and while this year’s event wasn’t quite as impressive, it was still pretty neat to see the most inhospitable desert in North America completely covered in flowers. After a morning spent enjoying the yellow rock formations at Zabriskie Point and photographing flowers in the valley I took Audrey for a hike through Mosaic Canyon, a tiny slot canyon that affords the opportunity to scramble over boulders and up slickrock. Luckily she remained on speaking terms with me even after we encountered rocks that caused other hikers to turn around, and she came away with some photos that convinced me I need to learn more about the HDR settings on my camera.
Being able to walk into the ocean from the shore with a scuba tank, and then being able to see underwater life that exceeds any aquarium, and being able to do so whenever you feel like it, is a ridiculously excellent way to dive. The morning dive was off of the hotel beach, and the afternoon dive was at the loading pier for the Cargill Salt Works. Everything from eels to stone fish to sea turtles to barracuda to groupers made appearances, along with the ten gazillion other fish that are out here.
I also pulled the big camera out of the bag and grabbed a few shots of the local iguanas that come begging at the hotel during mealtimes, then made Audrey drive me around looking for flamingos as the sun was going down. I stood near a lagoon waiting for one of the birds to pull his head out from underwater while she made friends with some of the island’s donkeys. Then we came home and ate seafood and chocolate, ’cause that’s how we roll.
It seems like longer than fourteen months since the days were filled with colorful kingfishers and tiny deer.
Despite the higher-than-normal number of recent journal entries on political topics, there’s still a bunch of political stuff that I’d like to think through further via a journal entry – the ongoing drama surrounding the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversy over the hunting death of Cecil the Lion, the Iran nuclear deal, etc. But too much politics gets old fast, so here’s an entry about groceries and Tanzania instead.
Exactly one year ago today on July 28, 2014 I was travelling from Istanbul to Tanzania on a plane that turned out to be too broken to fly. This flight occurred after two amazing weeks exploring Turkey and with two-and-a-half months remaining in what may be the most epic trip I ever take in my life. I woke up the following morning with a view of Mount Kilimanjaro, spent the next four weeks on safari, then roamed South Africa for two weeks before Audrey and I embarked on a four-week odyssey in Madagascar. In what seems to be some sort of time displacement that gets more pronounced as I get older, that trip feels like it took place an incredibly long time ago, but simultaneously it somehow doesn’t seem like a lot of time has passed since it ended.
Today I’m writing this journal entry from a plane on a comparatively much less exciting trip to San Antonio for work. HEB made the prudent choice of selecting Commerce Architects to take care of their web site in the coming months, so I’ll be visiting Texas on a regular basis and working with a small team to turn their site into a streamlined grocery-dispensing beast. While photographing lemurs would be more exciting, selling groceries online is a surprisingly interesting application given all the constraints around what can be shipped, what needs to be picked up from the store, differing inventories across hundreds of stores and warehouses, etc, so it should be a fun technical challenge. I’m not one of those people who would gush about loving his job – I’d rather be on an extended road trip – but especially when things are going smoothly I enjoy the constant problem-solving, and it’s extremely rewarding when the solution to those problems ends up being particularly elegant or clever. The flip side of that “rewarding” aspect is that Audrey often discovers me spending an inordinate amount of time pacing around the living room when the elegant solutions prove to be elusive, often resulting in long periods of frustration followed by concentrated bursts of inspiration, but if that wasn’t the case they probably wouldn’t call it “work”.
Life continues to move along in positive directions, and I continue to be grateful for the abundance of good fortune I’ve experienced thus far.
Lava Beds National Monument is a pretty cool spot. By 1PM I’d explored five of the park’s caves, all of them very different. Golden Dome Cave had me on my belly at one point pushing between rocks, Sentinel Cave was an easy 1000 meter underground stroll, Skull Cave was a short yet ENORMOUS cavern, with a lava tube passage large enough to fit an airplane. Valentine Cave and Sunshine Cave offered a bit of everything, with some scrambling and some easy bits. I lucked out and had every cave almost completely to myself – being in absolute darkness with only the sounds of dripping water is a stupendous environment for sitting and thinking.
Following the below-ground explorations I did a bit of above-ground exploration, then returned to the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge before moving on. Now I’m parked in the forest under Mount Shasta as thunderstorms intermittently pass by. So far this has been a much-needed break from life in the city.
I only saw one other car this morning as I was roaming around the antelope refuge, and that sort of set the tone for the day – for the most part, today was a day of little-used roads, the sort where if you see another vehicle then the drivers wave at one another. After roaming the dusty dirt roads of the antelope refuge I headed back towards California via some apparently little-used state roads. Once back in the state where pumping your own gas is legal I headed towards Goose Lake, which is a spot on the map that has always intrigued me. It’s as big as Tahoe on the map, but you never hear about it. And when I arrived, I found out why – it’s not there; a dry lakebed and plumes of dust filled the spot where a ginormous lake was supposed to be. A missing lake seems like reason #5,346 why the world needs to figure out the whole fresh water supply thing.
After the non-lake I made a brief trip through the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, then it was on to the surprisingly awesome Lava Beds National Monument, and the neighboring Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge. I won’t do a species list since that would be boring, but the summary report is that the snake I saw today most likely was of the poisonous variety, and apparently California is home to pheasants, something I never realized despite living here for 17 years. The other attraction of this park is that it is lousy with caves, and with one half-mile long lava tube explored today, the plan for tomorrow is to see what some of the others are like.
Also, since it’s a neat thing, as I started writing this entry I could see the silhouettes of two deer next to my car, licking ash from the campground firepit; sharing a campsite with deer is not an experience I tend to have while working.
I’ve got a couple of weeks between projects, so I put the Subaru in drive mode and went up to San Francisco to take the folks out for a nice meal, visit with Audrey, and then I took off with no particular destination in mind.
Day one took me through Feather Canyon, which is the lowest elevation pass through the Sierras, and a place I’d never visited before. A bald eagle flew by to say hello, which was nice, and a deer burst out of the bushes next to the road and tapped my front bumper, which was less nice, although she bounced back up and ran into the woods so hopefully all was well. From there I passed through Lassen Volcanic National Park, although even in the midst of a drought almost everything but the main road was still closed by snow. On a less nature-y stop I went to Starbucks in the evening and was entertained by a stoner who kept standing up in his seat every few minutes to yell out “I feel His power, man! Glory to Him!” The night was spent sleeping soundly in the back of the Subaru in a national forest campground near Lake Shasta.
The behemoth volcano Mount Shasta towered 14,162 feet overhead the next morning, and an equally large biscuit greeted me at the original Black Bear Diner, which I stumbled on while meandering through the area. Post-breakfast I was in Oregon, a state known for its fear of allowing people without proper training to pump their own gasoline. I made it up to Oregon Caves National Monument, but decided against descending into a subterranean cavern for 90 minutes when a carload of six screaming kids pulled into the parking lot behind me, each of them making their best effort to ensure that I fully appreciated how peaceful it had been prior to their arrival. After a nice hike through the forest I took the next available tour, this one mercifully with just two very well-behaved kids on it, and spent the next hour-and-a-half scrambling around underground on the rocks. After another aboveground hike I was leaving the park when one of the park’s employees flagged me down, and I ended up giving a short ride to a girl who offered to let me know what plans the universe had for me according to her astrology book. I politely declined, dropped her off at the employee housing, and spent the night camped next to a stream down some random logging road.
Today I stopped in Klamath Falls where another bald eagle was hanging out, and then made my way east to the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge – I saw it on the map and figured anything in the middle of nowhere and full of antelope must be worth a visit. I did some hiking, hung out with deer, pronghorn, sandhill cranes, hawks, vultures, snakes, and myriad other critters, and now I’m parked for the evening in a quiet corner of the refuge with no one around and a herd of deer staring at me from a hundred yards away as I type, they munch, and the sun sets. It’s a far cry from sitting in my kitchen working in front of a computer, and a much-needed chance to make sure life is going the way it should be and figure out what course corrections that might be needed.
Nearly six weeks after returning home, here’s one last post about the world tour via four photos that didn’t originally make it into the journal but are good enough that my brain smiles when I see them.
We booked two fancy resorts on this trip. The first one we booked for its wildlife, and Audrey dubbed it Fantasy Island. The second one we booked for the scuba diving opportunities, and this one is actually on a private island and is just as deserving of the “Fantasy Island” moniker. Nosy Tsarabanjina is a tiny little island 40 kilometers from Nosy Be with white sand beaches and jagged volcanic/coral coastlines. I walked around the entire island in about two hours, but it’s small enough that had the path been easier, and had I not been stopping at every tide pool to gawk at mudskippers, the trek probably would have taken less than thirty minutes.
The plan had been to do some scuba diving while here, but while catching the boat to the island we met the (apparently only) divemaster returning to Nosy Be, so tomorrow we might get a night dive if he’s back, but we should hopefully get two dives in the following day. In the interim, snorkeling, birdwatching, and generally lounging around a tropical island will have to be sufficient – our lives continue to not be bad in any way.
This entry will have to cover two days – I was built for cold, not sun, and way too much of the latter during our multiple hours of snorkeling at Nosy Tenikely led to me stumbling into bed last night around six o’clock. All systems have not yet returned to full operational mode, but on a positive note I should be shedding several unneeded layers of skin soon.
Yesterday’s big adventure was a visit to the lemur-jumping-on-you village on Nosy Komba. The villagers who guide the trip feed the lemurs bananas, so it’s a bit wrong in the “don’t feed the wildlife” sense of things, but at the same time the territory for these lemurs would be adjacent to the village anyhow, so it felt more like feeding the ducks back home than feeding completely wild animals. The end result was a lack of guilt when the guide yelled “maki maki maki” and a troop of the hairy beasts came scurrying down from the trees, jumped on Audrey and me, and began chowing down on the bananas we had on offer. Right or wrong, it’s a very, very cool experience when a lemur wraps its long fingers around your hand and has lunch inches from your head.
Following the lemur extravaganza, the effects of the previous day’s sun exposure were beginning to become evident, so we headed back to our lodge, I rallied for another brief snorkel trip, and was then mostly operating from another planet while we packed up our things, handed a brick of 10,000 Ariary notes to our hosts (10,000 Ariary = $4, and the lodge was cash only), then took the boat back to the strangely-named harbor town of Hell-ville before hopping in a taxi to the Vanilla resort on the northwest coast of Nosy Be. If anything else happened during that time I don’t recall – the next thing I remember is waking up at 2AM and thinking that I should have set an alarm.
Today we got our first scuba trip in the Indian Ocean. The guide had warned us that visibility was poor, but apparently “poor” visibility here means “normal” visibility anywhere else in the world, so both dives were good ones. The variety of corals here is ridiculous, the fish didn’t seem to be very afraid of GoPros, and the depth was shallow enough that being completely out of practice for diving still allowed for two dives that were each longer than an hour. Following our morning dive I apparently slept for another two hours, although I’ve decided that today is the last day allowed for sun lethargy, and that tomorrow all systems will be fully operational no matter what.