Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Interlude

So having been through a small but not insignificant portion of the US, I thought it would be a good time to give a running assessment of what I thought of each area, in very broadbrush (aka totally unscientific and probably biased) terms.  I will be doing this periodically, for the sake of brevity, doing it by state.

California - Not much to say about it that hasn't already been said really.  The best observation is that if you want to experience a little bit of every other state, go the California.  You'll be guaranteed to find something there.

Oregon - The last bastion of the true hippie.  I'm not talking about the Burning-Man-going-pot-smoking-lives-at-home kind of hippie but the brown-clothes-backpack-dreads-wandering-aimlessly-communing-with-nature kind of hippie.  They seem to exist everywhere there, and are more or less tolerated as a feature of the landscape, like say... the bums of Berkeley.

Washington - If there was a state that resembled California, this would be it.  The coast definitely has a bay area vibe, albeit with a bit more of an outdoor emphasis.  The interior is surprisingly dry and the eastern edge hits the Rockies and thus goes back to being woodsy, not unlike a larger version of the Sierras.  You also get your spectrum of people from the progressives of the coast to the bible-thumping conservatives of the central area.  I can see why bay area transplants do so well in this state.

Idaho - Umm... Potatoes?  I saw about 2% of that state, and nary a potato I saw...

Montana - A surprisingly pleasant place to be.  Yes... it does get bitterly cold in the winter, and you are well... far from practically everything, but at least it isn't Wyoming?  I mean, I did see a Japanese student with her parents at the University of Montana, so that's got to count for something right?

Wyoming - Yellowstone aside, Wyoming is probably the last place I'd want to be stuck in.  Think of it like this: Picture the Mojave Desert.  If you can't, picture the Sahara, but with some random shrubbery and some cactus. Now take out the cactus, and cut down the shrubbery.  Then take a giant rolling pin and flatten everything out a little bit.  Finally, throw in a road (maybe two, if you're really adventurous) and a power line.  Voila!  You have Wyoming.  I have serious doubts as to whether people actually live in the state or they just stick random buildings there to keep the tourists happy.

South Dakota - Another surprisingly pleasant place to be, after the barren wasteland that was Wyoming.  Scorching temperatures aside, SD has its share of national parks, and at least there is either a)Signs of civilization or b) wilderness, not this strange limbo land of fenced wilderness like I saw in Wyoming (I think you're starting to the picture of my feelings toward Wyoming).  Just don't go to the capitol (Pierre).  That was quite possibly the biggest dump of a city I have seen, and I had to check multiple times to make sure that it was in fact the capitol instead of say, a really bad wrong turn into those areas your parents told you never to venture into.

North Dakota - So far this is the definition of a "Meh..." state for me.  Its got the sparsely populated look of SD without any of charm or major national parks.  On the plus side, its capitol is actually a decent city and its capitol building is actually rather unique (unlike say... Montana and SD, who seemed to somehow have hired the same architect with the same set of plans.  I'm all for 2 for 1 deals, but come on guys... this is a capitol building, not a pair of shoes!).

Minnesota - Ahh... the state of 10,000 lakes.  Thats 10,000 more places for mosquitoes to breed... Damn those things.  I was eaten alive in a rather foolhardy attempt to camp one night, and will forever curse any place that combines hot humid temperatures with large standing bodies of water.  That aside, Minneapolis-St Paul is quite the bustling metropolis.  It strangely reminds me of Boston, with the river running through the center and a bunch of differing and small niche districts.  Its got none of the scale of a large midwestern town like say Chicago or Indianapolis but it does manage to cram quite a bit into a rather small downtown area.  The surrounding areas... well thats still up for debate at this point.  It seems to be a hodge-podge of large commercial zones, as if a Sim City player decided to zone light commercial and accidentally made that the entire perimeter of the city.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Onward to the Badlands Pt 1

Having done so few of these posts, I now know why I would make a horrible writer. My thoughts tend to be fleeting, and if I don't somehow jot them down (lately its been via iphone voice memo) then they're gone, at least until the next time they decide to randomly pop up again. Its neither efficient nor conducive to regular writing, but its something I'll have to deal with as time goes on.

Yellowstone was everything people said it would be, though I didn't expect it to be as large as it actually is. To give those of you who haven't been there some idea, the park's roads are arranged roughly in a figure 8 with 6 main attractions, two at the top, two in the middle, and two at the bottom. It is about 20 miles to get from any one attraction to the next, which means at least 30-40 minutes of driving (barring any wildlife roadblocks...).  I ended up trying to see as much as I could in the two total days I was there and I think I hit most of the major spots.  My goal going into this was to photograph waterfalls.  Yes... out of all the things to take pictures of at Yellowstone, I picked that one.  That meant an early morning hike around the south end of the Lower Falls, and various stops along drive for all the rest of the falls.  Lower Falls was obviously the best, though I think Tower Fall would have been great had they actually had the trail to the base open.  Wraith Falls was quite disappointing, and Mystic Falls, while interesting, was just too far away to get a really good composition.
Yellowstone was also the first place on this trip I tried camping, and I learned a few important things:
1) Never buy the cheapest item (of anything).  Maybe the 2nd cheapest, or 3rd cheapest, but never ever the cheapest.  It may not seem like a big difference when its hanging up in the store, but I guarantee you'll feel the difference once you put it to actual use (I'm look at you, stupid tent and sleeping bag).  My only worthwhile purchase also happened to the most expensive, which was the sleeping pad.  Self inflating sleeping pads are AMAZING.
2) I feel conflicted about car camping.  On one hand I'm not about to pick up a frame pack and go backpacking into the wilderness for a week, but on the other hand after seeing what people brought to the campground I felt kind of ashamed for sharing the grounds with them.  There were of course the multitude of RVs, campers, land yachts etc, but the one that truly took the cake was a medium sized camper.  Now, it wasn't overly large, or overly ostentatious, but as you get closer, you realized something was amiss.  Then you see those familiar words... DIRECT TV.  Yes... This family thought "hey, while we're out pretending to be in the wilderness, why don't we catch a game or two?"  And this wasn't a camper mounted antenna (as cool as that would have looked) but rather a portable antenna on a tripod.  Me?  I didn't even have a lantern.  Just a tarp, tent, mat, sleeping bag, and iphone (alright... so I was glad I had cell reception at the camp site...).
3) Rain + camping = ???? That equation can go a lot of different ways.  For one thing, I'm not sure of the effectiveness of a tarp during a torrential down poor.  It tends to pool water in all the worst places, and while I didn't get (very) wet, any clothes that ended up near the edge of the tent (like my pants) sure did.   I unfortunately didn't have enough rope (or foresight...) to rig up a shade for my tent, but undoubtedly that would have helped quite a bit.

All of that just means I gotta return a bunch of stuff when I finally get to another Sports Authority (which is all the way in Minneapolis).

PS.  I've stopped trying to post pictures here as there are just far too many.  Please click on the photostream on the right, as it will probably be synced pretty well with the latest post.

(This post will continue, but I have to check out before I'm forced to stay another day at the Bavarian Inn, which actually was a rather pleasant place in Custer, SD)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Unexpected Detour...

Sooo.... I was supposed to be just outside of Bozeman, MT tonight, preparing for a day or two in Yellowstone. Instead, I'm at a motel in Missoula, MT, about 3 hours from where I want to be.  Why?  Bad luck and really really bad luck.  First bit of bad luck was the weather.  Its supposed to thunderstorm tomorrow, and it already did that this afternoon, so Yellowstone might be out of the question for at least another day.  Now... the really really bad luck is another wonderful example of how I make anything and any situation complicated.

Missoula at Dusk

While travelling through Missoula, I decided that I was hungry and wanted a bite to eat.  I parked and started walking toward what was supposed to be a sandwich shop (which I later found out closed down) and passed a camera store.  Well, being me, I had to stop in and take a look.  I ended up eyeing a couple inexpensive lenses to buy, and having talked to the owner a bit and seeing that the lenses themselves were of decent quality decided get my camera and bring it in for a few test pictures.  The first lens, a M42 mount 50mm/1.8 worked quite well and was very inexpensive.  The second lens, a nikon mount 28mm/2.8 was also quite inexpensive, but as it turns out, didn't work so well.  You see... this was not a genuine nikon lens like I have used previously on my camera but rather some other random Japanese brand.  Now, Nikon lenses are supposed to mount in only one orientation (or so I thought) but apparently I was able to mount this lens upside down on the adapter and get it to fit on the body (don't ask... it just worked).  I ran through some tests, made sure everything was good, and then tried to remove the lens.  It was stuck.  FUCK.  You see, by somehow mounting the lens upside down it was now jamming against some pins when I tried to rotate the lens out.  Both myself and the owner tried working the lens for a good long while before finally giving up and calling the shop's repair guy for an appointment tomorrow in order to either a) do his magic and remove the lens or b) dismantle the lens in order to remove the lens.  My $15 lens just turned into a $100 problem I think...

On the plus side I'm glad I brought along my old XTi body.  On the other hand I totally forgot the remote trigger.  Ya win some, ya lose some.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On The Road

Its hard to believe I'm already a week into this trip and I haven't posted once! This has been a very busy week, with many destinations and a boatload of material that I need to sort through. This jampacked week is courtesy of my great friend Liz who decided to join me till I reached Seattle. Being a far more prolific planner than I am she managed to map out a route that would maximize things done for her leg of the trip. It was a success.

Day 1 (Sunday):
Had a late start that day due to some last minutes interviews with my parents. Didn't leave Berkeley till after 3pm so I knew it was going to be a long day. Ended up having dinner in Redding at the Black Bear Diner. Food was classic Americana, for better or worse. I did however receive a comment about my "homeless guy" t-shirt (well... more like "hey, that guy's wearing a homeless guy t-shirt!"), which was funny because I had totally forgotten that I was even wearing it. We finally made it to Klamath Falls, OR around 11pm and stayed at the America's Best Value Inn (quaint and inexpensive, though right by the highway).

Day 2:
The Open Fields
Left Klamath Falls early for the drive to Crater Lake. Holy crap Oregon is GREEN! Not in the "hey look at the shrubbery" kind of green but in the "look at the green forest, and the behind that the green hills, and in front of that the green fields" kind of green. With the combination of the green and the sunlight peeking through the clouds the only things keeping it from being a perfect “in touch with the wilderness” moment were 1) The awful, horrible road noise (Oregon doesn't seem to understand the concept of a smooth highway and instead decided to pave their highways with gravel or something) and 2) The neverending road construction (which would hopefully alleviate problem 1).

Crater Lake Panorama
Crater Lake however was fantastic. Think of it as if you took a mountain and just scooped out the middle. Its very reminescent of Lake Tahoe (very deep, very blue) but only smaller and with steeper sides. We ended up taking a hike up to Scott Peak which overlooks the lake. Very few hikes actually land you at a location were you have a full 360ยบ view of everything, but here, the only higher than where we stood was a small fire lookout on a nearby peak. Yeah... it was cool. I ended up striking up a conversation with a family who was at the top with us and apparently they were from someplace north of Vancouver and the father gave enough “eh”s and “dontchaknow”s to make up for the entire Canadian population (or at least his family anyway...).
The next stop was in Eugene, OR, which was the first major Oregon city we drove through. It has a distinctly small college town feel to it (think Davis without the cows and more trees). It has the requisite cheap (and not so cheap) eateries, the hippy backpackers/hitchhikers, and a quiant downtown shopping district. We had dinner at Steelhead Brewery, where the beer was good and cheap and the food was adaquately good (only so much you can do with a burger or a burrito) before taking a walk around the block and landing at the Oregon Electric Station, a rather upscale restaurant in an old, well, electric station. A glass of port and and a sundae later (trust me, I won't be eating like this again for a LONG time) it was time to head back to the Express Inn, as the next morning was gonna be a early one.

Day 3
So day 3's start requires a bit of explanation. See, Liz is a runner. She claims she's not a “great” runner, but she can outrun me many times over, so she will reside in great runner status till things change on my part. Anyway, after finding the stopping point in Eugene, she had had HAD to go and run on Hayward Field's track. You see, there's this guy named Prefontaine. He was apparently a world class runner and ran for UO on this very track. So for her to run on the track it would be like a Yankees fan playing a game of pickup baseball at Yankee Stadium, or me taking laps around Silverstone or Laguna Seca, and the prospect of doing this made her giddy in a way I have rarely seen. Bingo, I have found my first happiness segment.
So with this in mind I awoke at 7am, put on some shorts and a tshirt (mind you, it was in the mid 50's outside), and drove the short distance to the track in order to film her glorious 3-miler on Hayward Field. The field itself was very nice, though having actually been on only a handful of other fields in my life my judgement could be off. When we got there it was almost empty save for a couple other runners and the ground crew doing some watering and maintainance. After a short stretch we were off, and 10 minutes 30 seconds later we had done our warmup mile (well, her warmup, my final).
Now... about filming runners. I went into it thinking it would be just like filming cars, only, well... slower. In certain respects thats very true. You're trying to film something that moves, and more importantly moves quickly enough to outpace you the photographer. Certain aspects of track based events however make this task easier and harder. By being on a track, there are multiple opportunites to film the same thing (except the start and finish of course). However, by being on the track and not having access to any mode of transport other than my own two feet, camera stabilization was definitely an issue. My ghetto-stickcam (using the stick from my Zoom H4N) didn't quite cut it, though it would have required a pretty large steadycam rig (even a cheap pvc/conduit one) to really compensate for the shake of a full run. But a combination of shaky stickcam and very high shutter speed (1/200 to 1/500) meant a very “Jason Bourne” style of shot, for better or worse.
Having had a morning run a bit of breakfast was in order, which ended up being at [name of cafe]. After that was a quick walking tour of Eugene before leaving for Salem. We managed to arrive in Salem in time for the final Capitol building tour, which took us to the top of the Oregon Capitol to right underneath where the “Oregeon Pioneer” statue stands. It gives a great view of Salem, though Salem is such a small capital compared to the likes of Sacramento. Taking the tour with us was a family from Alaska (with a grandmother who just wouldn't shut up) and a family from Vladivostok Russia. Apparently the guy was doing research at UO for particle physics (!!!) and had been residing in Oregon for 7 years. The Russian physicist... almost as common a stereotype as the Russian chemist. The tour itself was pretty informative, though photo opportunities were few and far between.
Leaving Salem, we headed for Portland. Now... I should mention that by this time it was kind of late, we hadn't eaten since lunch, and both of us were pretty hungry. Getting into Portland was a bit messy with all its construction, but we eventually made it to the motel (which by my standards was adaquate, but Liz thought otherwise) and the headed off for dinner at [name of place]. The lamb and polenta were fantastic, but man, I really shouldn't have ordered that savory yogurt drink... If you can imagine putting salt into a standard yogurt drink then you get what this would taste like. Yeah... not a good image is it? At least the Pub at the End of the Universe made up for that. It was really tucked away but had a neat vibe and good beer, not to mention outdoor seating. A good end to a very very long day.

More back logged updates to be continued....