Hiking from Lake Louise to the Lake Agnes Teahouse

My wife and I have spent the past several days in western Alberta, tucked high in the Canadian Rockies. Every few years, we join her family for a group vacation. In the past, we’ve visited Alaska, San Francisco, London, and New York. This year we chose Banff (population 7600), the highest city in Canada (at 1383 meters above sea level).

The scenery in Banff National Park is stunning. Words can’t do justice to the views — and neither can my photos. The Canadian Rockies stretch from horizon to horizon. Jagged peaks burst abruptly from the earth, towering above the pine forests below. Here and there are rivers and lakes colored a creamy turquoise blue. (This captivating color comes from “rock flour” carried by glacier melt-water.)

I’d love to say my photographs captured the majestic beauty of the mountains, but they don’t. This is the best I’ve managed so far (though I plan to keep trying):

Lake Louise, as seen from the gondola on the opposite side of the valley

Kris and I drove from Portland to Coeur d’Alene on Friday, and from Idaho to Banff on Saturday. On Sunday, we joined her family to explore the town and the surrounding area. On Monday, we drove the 58 kilometers north to Lake Louise.

Like everything else in the area, Lake Louise is gorgeous: Its glacier-fed waters are the same creamy turquoise found elsewhere in the region; mountain peaks (and Victoria Glacier) tower on three sides. There’s pine forest all around.

Canoes on Lake Louise
Canoes are popular on Lake Louise, especially on a sunny day.

On a sunny summer day like this one, tourists are everywhere. Some sit on the patio of the nearby chateau, sipping tea. Others rent canoes to paddle on the lake. But most pick one of many trails to hike and explore. Kris’ parents decided to take the easy stroll along Lake Louise, while Kris and I joined her sister and her husband for a more strenuous hike.

We had two options. We could:

  • Hike a 10.6 kilometer round-trip to the Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse. This four-hour journey includes a 365 meter elevation gain.
  • Hike a 6.8 kilometer round-trip to the Lake Agnes Teahouse. This two-and-a-half hour climb features a 385 meter elevation gain.

I was eager to do the longer hike, but my companions preferred the shorter route. Besides, Kris’ parents would be finished with their walk along Lake Louise in about an hour. If we were gone for four, they’d have a lot of time to kill. No worries — we set out for the Lake Agnes Teahouse.

Hiking from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes
Tiffany, Kris, and Paul on the well-marked (and well-traveled) path to the Lake Agnes Teahouse.

The path from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes is wide and well-trodden. There were many other hikers on the trail. Some were serious: they moved swiftly with their trekking poles and hiking boots. Others were more casual, making their way to the top in flip-flops.

About one-third of the way to the top, we reached the first switchback; here a small clearing in the trees allowed us to catch glimpses of the boaters on Lake Louise below. Two-thirds of the way to Lake Agnes, we stopped briefly at Mirror Lake. We would have rested longer but the mosquitos were out in force. Instead, we hurried on.

Note: When traveling, I almost always carry insect repellent with me. (I’m a fan of Ben’s wipes, which are like moist towelettes soaked with DEET.) For some reason, though, I left my insect repellent behind for the excursion to Lake Louise. I paid dearly for that mistake.

Mirror Lake   Photographing Mirror Lake
We stopped for a break at Mirror Lake; the bloodthirsty mosquitos forced us to resume climbing.

Aside from the mosquitos, the most difficult part of our hike was the elevation. Though it’s a constant climb from Lake Louise to Lake Agnes — there’s no up-and-down as on some mountain trails — the pitch isn’t severe. But because the trail is a mile above sea level, even fit folks can feel out of breath.

After about an hour of hiking, we reached Lake Agnes, a serene spot tucked into a bowl formed by a series of mountain peaks. The Lake Agnes Teahouse sits on the near shore, and is a popular destination with hikers. The teahouse offers 100 varieties of loose-leaf tea, but also provides snacks, light meals, and other drinks too.

Lake Agnes Teahouse menu board
The Lake Agnes Teahouse offers 100 varieties of loose-leaf tea.

I enjoyed a tuna sandwich and a bowl of “spicy African peanut” soup, which I washed down with a pot of lapsang souchong tea. (Since I don’t like coffee, I often drink this smoked tea from China. I like it so much that I buy it in bulk.) Given that the Lake Agnes Teahouse has only a tiny kitchen (and no electricity!), the food was surprisingly good, especially the oatmeal brown bread (which is baked fresh every morning). The only drawback was the cost: $5.70 for the pot of tea and $13.80 for the soup & sandwich combo. That’s $19.50 (or about $21 U.S.) for a simple meal! We agreed the price was worth it, though — a fitting reward for our efforts.

Note: The Lake Agnes Teahouse accepts only cash (or travelers checks). Because there’s no electricity, you cannot pay for your snacks with plastic.

Before we left the Lake Louise Teahouse, Kris and Tiffany played scofflaw by feeding a granola bar to the chipmunks lurking nearby.

Kris and Tiffany disobeyed the signs and fed the wildlife.

On our descent, we were plagued by even more mosquitos than before, which hardly seemed possible. Brave Paul allowed one of the little devils to suck his blood while I snapped a photo of the only predator we’ve seen so far in Alberta.

Paul fed the wildlife too. It was impossible to not feed the mosquitos.

The climb from Lake Louise to the Lake Agnes Teahouse was excellent exercise, and the weather perfect. Plus, the meal at the teahouse was memorable. We had fun. I do wish we’d done the Plain of Six Glaciers hike, but traveling with groups requires compromise. Besides, this gives me a reason to come back to Lake Louise sometime in the future, right?

Drama in real life: A place for mom

In my ideal world, you’d now be reading an article about the freelancing or entrepreneurship or extreme couponing or one of the half dozen other topics I’ve started to write about. In my ideal world, I’d go to the gym this morning, and then to Spanish lessons this afternoon. In my ideal world, Kris and I would go see the Portland Timbers play this evening. Unfortunately, I don’t live in my ideal world.

Instead, I live a world where my mother’s descent into mental illness has once again reached a crisis. And although my family is better prepared for it this time — we have the power of attorney in place, we have a list of Mom’s medications and phone numbers for her doctors, we’ve been researching live-in care and assisted-living facilities — we’re still not as prepared as we should be.

The difference this time is that everyone, including the doctors, is taking this seriously, and we’re devoting all our time and energy to finding a solution.

A Little Background

My mother has struggled with mental health problems for over a decade. Three years ago, she took a turn for the worse and spent three weeks in the psych ward of a local hospital. When she was released, she was fine. In fact, she was better than I’d seen her in years.

Since then, she’s had a handful of relapses. After the most recent crisis in January, I wrote about the difficulties of caring for aging parents, and I asked GRS readers for advice. I acted on some of it. We had a power of attorney drafted and Mom drew up a basic living will. We started to discuss what might happen in the future. But we never finished the process completely. When Mom’s health improves, we tend to become complacent. It’s tough to push her to prepare for when she’s non-functional when, at that moment, she seems fairly cognizant.

Lately, though, Mom has become more and more disoriented. She’s confused. She doesn’t know what the date is, and often can’t remember things we’ve told her just hours before. (Or seconds before.) When we noticed that she wasn’t taking her medication properly (she was taking it mostly at random, often days in advance of when she ought to), we took her to the doctor. The doctor agreed there was cause for concern, but couldn’t find anything medically wrong with her. As a family, we began to check on her daily.

Over the past few weeks, Mom’s condition has continued to decline. She hasn’t been taking care of basic hygiene. She hasn’t been eating. She still can’t take her medication at the right time. It had just occurred to us that perhaps she shouldn’t be driving when Mom called to let us know she’d driven through the back wall of her garage. We took away her keys.

Mom's garage

Final Crisis

Last Thursday, I flew to Colorado for the first of two weekend conferences. Before I left, I made plans to research ways to help Mom upon my return.

But on Friday, as the first conference was beginning, I learned that Mom’s doctor had ordered her to be admitted to the hospital. My wife and my brother were with her. I debated flying home, but Kris told me everything was under control.

Throughout the weekend, my family sat with Mom as the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with her. But neither the internist nor the psychiatrist nor the neurologist could find anything specific that was the matter. “They’ve given her a diagnosis of ‘altered mental state’,” Kris told me by phone. “Which is code for, ‘we don’t know what the hell’s wrong with her’.”

On Monday, as I was preparing to speak on a panel at a conference in Seattle, Mom’s internist called to give me a run-down of her condition. After talking with him and talking with Kris, I decided to cut my trip short. I had planned to stay another day, but instead I finished my talk, hopped on a train, and went to the airport to ask to fly home to Portland immediately. (On a lighter note, it turns out my good friend Chris Guillebeau was on the same flight, returning from his latest round-the-world jaunt.)

On Tuesday, I joined my brother Jeff at the hospital. We sat with Mom for four hours, talking to her and talking to the nurses and doctors. Still they couldn’t give us a diagnosis. What they could tell us, however, was that there was no medical reason for her to remain in the hospital, so she was going to be discharged within a day. And after discharge, she was going to require round-the-clock care.

Mom is only 63, but her short-term memory is essentially non-existent. She can tell you what happened 20 years ago, but not what happened 20 minutes ago. Or 20 seconds ago. Perhaps worse, she has trouble articulating the thoughts in her head. It’s clear her mental faculties haven’t completely vanished, but she’s unable to convey what she’s thinking. She has aphasia. And, as of Tuesday afternoon, the doctors have decided to label her condition as dementia. (Though, again, this seems to be a catch-all for things they can’t define.)

Armed with this knowledge, and feeling the pressure to find a solution fast, we spent most of Tuesday researching options such as live-in care and assisted living facilities.

Happy Acres

One by one, our top choices fell away. There’s really no way for Mom to live with any of her three sons. It’s cost prohibitive to hire full-time care fo her, and even if we did, the caregiver might not be able to do some of the things we’d like. We can’t place her in a lot of programs because she doesn’t qualify. She makes too much from the box factory, or she’s too young, or she lacks the required diagnosis.

After some research, my brother discovered an assisted living facility just ten minutes from his house. Best of all, this place specializes in “memory care”.

So, Jeff and I gave Happy Acres a tour. Having nothing to compare it to, it seems fine. The memory unit is isolated from the rest of the building, and the patients given special care. Happy Acres is nice — but sad. These folks, who were once vibrant and interesting, are now shells of themselves. Also, they’re all 75. Or 85. Mom is 63. Sill, this seemed like a great place to watch her while we see if she improves. Here, she’s close to us. Here, she’ll have folks dispensing her medicine and helping her eat healthy food.

After weighing the options, we decided Happy Acres was the best bet, even if it is expensive.

A Handful of Stuff

Last night, my brothers and I (and our wives and kids) met at Panera Bread near the hospital in order to plan Mom’s future. Where will she live? For how long? What will she take? Who will pay for the service? Who will pay her existing bills? What will happen to her cats?

During this most recent crisis, Mom’s financial skills have vanished. She’s been sending two checks for a single bill. Or sometimes she doesn’t send them at all. When she does write a check, the numbers are sometimes random. Here’s a glimpse at the gibberish she wrote in her checkbook register last month:

Mom's checkbook register
The gibberish in Mom’s checkbook register.

After our mediocre (but costly) dinner, the family headed into the nearby mall to buy some basic things Mom will need when moving to Happy Acres this morning. We bought her bedding, a mattress set, towels, and more. This morning, instead of going to Crossfit, and instead of writing or studying Spanish, I’m helping my brothers set up her new living space in a small room very much like a college dorm. Her entire life (or the physical aspect of it) is being reduced to the bare necessities.

Note: We’re now very glad we had a power of attorney drafted after Mom’s last crisis. It allows us to use her funds to buy the mattress, etc. In fact, all of the various legal documents we assembled will make this process easier.

Meanwhile, the entire family plans to work together to sort through the remains of Mom’s normal life. I think the women plan to purge her house and clean it from top to bottom. Jeff and Tony are talking about repairing the garage. I’ll figure out how much money she has in her checking account (almost certainly not the $200,000 she has noted in the checkbook register), and I’ll cancel accounts and services she no longer needs.

All of this is complicated by our existing plans. Kris and I leave for Alberta in a matter of days. Jeff and his family are headed to British Columbia upon our return. Tony has plans of his own. How do we juggle what we want to do with what we ought to do? So far, we’re working together to make things right. But there’s a good chance I’ll have to cancel my trip to England in August. I’ll try to see it through, but if my family needs me here, I’ll stay in the States.

So, I have some great posts in the works for Get Rich Slowly, but they’re going to be late. And there may be some blanks spots in the posting schedule over the next week. I’m spending most of my time with Mom, not on the computer. (My goal is to do both, if possible.) Take care!

Serving Suggestion

Courtesy of the local Fred Meyer produce department, here’s the world’s most hilarious “serving suggestion”: a serving suggestion for bananas.

Serving suggestion for bananas

There you have it. In case you weren’t aware of it before, you can use bananas in a fruit salad. Or — believe it or not — you can “simply eat fresh for a natural boost of energy”. Now, if only they could tell me what I should do with these blueberries…

A Chance Encounter

I was standing on the tarmac last night, waiting for my backpack to be brought from the small commuter plane I’d just taken from Seattle, when my good friend Chris Guillebeau appeared at my side. “Hey man, how’s it going?” he said, shaking my hand.

“Holy cats!” I said. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in Angola.”

“And Dubai and Madagascar,” Chris said. “But I just got back. I’ve been traveling for 47 hours. What about you? Where have you been?”

“I was in Colorado for the Savvy Blogging Summit and then in Seattle to speak about personal finance to videogame developers,” I explained. “I wish I’d known you were on this flight.”

“I know,” he said. “We could have sat together.”

In line to audition for The Amazing Race
Chris Guillebeau, in line for our attempt to audition for The Amazing Race last February.

We grabbed our bags and started the long walk to the exit. Chris told me about his most recent adventures. He’s been traveling the world for several years now, pursuing a quest to visit every country by the time he turns 35. He only has a couple of years left now, and the remaining countries are becoming more challenging to get to. I’d already read about his adventures in Angola and how cold it was in South Africa, but I hadn’t heard about the latter parts of the trip.

“I ran out of cash in the Comoros,” Chris said. “That hasn’t ever happened before. Maybe I’ve grown too cocky. I didn’t have enough cash to enter the country, so they confiscated my passport. I had to pick it up when I left.” But even that wasn’t so simple. (I’m sure he’ll tell the whole story over at The Art of Non-Conformity before long.)

When we reached the waiting area outside security, Jolie was waiting for Chris. She burst into a smile when she saw him and ran to give him a hug. Then she saw me and stopped, puzzled. “What’s J.D. doing with you?” she asked.

“He’s been with me since Madagascar,” Chris joked.

I offered to give the Guillebeaus a ride home, so we hopped on the shuttle to long-term parking, where our driver was a mildly retarded but very friendly man named Bob. He shook our hands as we entered, and then cracked silly jokes all the way to the lot. (“What do you get when you cross a turtle with a porcupine?” “A slow poke!”)

As we drove into Portland, we talked about plans for next year’s World Domination Summit. How big should it be? Where should we hold it? What date? Who should speak? Chris also told me about his upcoming seven-continent book tour. “My goal is to have the best-selling book on Antarctica,” he told me.

“I’d love to go with you,” I said. “Maybe mine could be the second best-selling book on Antarctica.” We laughed at that and hatched some plans.

I left my friends at their doorstep and drove home happy. Real Life has some challenges in store for me this week. The next few days will be tough. But I awoke this morning with a smile on my face because last night I got to spend an unexpected hour with friends. What a fine way to end five days of travel.

The Art of Waiting

It’s 17:01 and I’m waiting for the bus. I’ve spent the past eight hours making my way from a conference in Colorado Springs to a friend’s home in Seattle. For much of that eight hours, I’ve been waiting.

I’m on the last leg of my journey now — waiting for the bus to take me from the train station to Nicole‘s house. Apparently I missed the five o’clock bus by seconds. I rounded the corner in time to see it pulling away. No worries. I sat in the covered shelter to wait for the next bus. As I did, though, a boy across the street shouted at me, “Hey you! That bus don’t come for another hour.” So, I’m waiting.

I’ve learned that any sort of travel entails a lot of waiting: waiting for buses, waiting for planes, waiting for trains, waiting for ferries, waiting for tour groups. And if you’re sightseeing, there’s always lots of waiting in line. When I was younger, waiting bothered me. It felt like lost time. I was easily bored. And if I were traveling, it seemed that I ought to be doing something because otherwise my money would be wasted.

Now, though, I often enjoy the wait. It’s an essential part of the process, a natural component in the rhythm of travel.

Note: Sometimes the actual travel itself is a form of waiting. A sixteen-hour light from Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg is a long exercise in patience. A three-hour van ride from San Ignacio, Belize to Tikal in Guatemala requires patience too. We wait to travel, but the travel is simply waiting in motion.

What I do while waiting depends on the situation. In a new country or city, the novelty takes the edge off — there’s plenty to see and do. (I especially like to browse the shops in new places. What do people in Paris read while traveling? What sorts of snacks can one buy at an airport in Zambia? Are there good souvenirs to be had in Belize?) Here are some of the things I’ve done while waiting:

  • On our flight from Portland to Venice last summer, we had a long layover at JFK. To kill time, I exercised. I did push-ups and sit-ups and squats in a corner of the room. After 30 minutes of exercise, I sat down to read. “You stink,” Kris told me. “Go change your clothes.” I went into the bathroom and gave myself a sponge bath.
  • On that same trip, we had a long wait in Rome before the night train to Paris. We had a long, leisurely lunch at a sidewalk cafe (during which I drank an entire liter of wine) before crashing for several hours at the edge of the train platform. We weren’t alone. Dozens of other passengers waited with us.
  • In Florence, Italy, we had to wait an hour to get into the Uffizi Gallery because of an impromptu strike. (We felt lucky; often these strikes can last much longer.) But waiting in line while sightseeing can be fun. It’s a chance to do some people-watching or to share stories with the people around you.
  • In most airports, I’m able to work while I wait. For instance, to kill time at the Denver airport this morning, I found a nearly-abandoned gate (downstairs in the A concourse, under A51) with a garden of free power outlets for me to charge my electronics. While I waited, I answered e-mail.

And now, as I sit in a bus shelter in southeast Seattle waiting for a bus, I kill time by blogging. I jot notes to myself on an iPhone. But today my wait is short. Nicole texts to say she’ll drive down to pick me up. “It’s Sunday,” she says, “and the buses don’t run very often.”

Nicole arrives a few minutes later, and I toss my pack into the back seat of her car. As I do, the #36 pulls up. Nicole and I laugh at the timing. I guess I could have waited.

“Waiting is fun when you have an iPhone.” — Kate (Nicole’s fifteen-year-old daughter), upon hearing the bus anecdote

What’s the longest you’ve ever waited while traveling? Does waiting make you tense? Or have you found ways to make the time pass more pleasantly?

Starstruck: Six Stunning Videos of the Night-Time Sky

Earlier tonight at Awesome People, I shared the six videos that make up The Sagan Series, one man’s attempt to create the PR campaign that NASA should have produced for itself. These videos make me ache to see humans in space.

As a boy, I dreamed of living in space, of journeying to other planets — and other stars. The best I’ll ever do, of course, is to go outside and look at the night sky. Unfortunately, that night sky isn’t so stellar here in Portland. There’s far too much light pollution. Maybe when I’m hiking across northern England next month, I’ll be able to take in some star-gazing.

To mollify myself in the meantime, I’ve been watching some brilliant time-lapse videos of the night sky, including the six featured below. First up is footage from Randy Halverson, who spent three weeks filming in Milky Way from his home in South Dakota.

Halverson’s other work is great, too, especially his winter night timelapse (including raccoons and an owl). Learn more at Dakotalapse.

Not to be outdone, here’s Alex Cherney’s gorgeous time-lapse video of the sky over the Southern Ocean Coast in Australia. This took Cherney 1-1/2 years of work and includes 31 hours of images made over six nights.

For more of Cherney’s work, take a look at Melbourne at Night. Learn more at his website, Terrastro.

And here’s a time-lapse video from Norway’s Terje Sørgjerd. His film stars El Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, and a dust storm from the Sahara Desert.

Sørgjerd’s images are stunning. Take a look at this celebration of the arctic light.

From Daniel López, here’s “El cielo de Canarias” (Canary sky):

And here’s Simon Christen’s time-lapse footage of the sky over San Francisco:

That last one lasts only a minute, but I wish it were longer.

Finally, here’s an eight-minute video of time-lapse footage from the Europoean Southern Observatory’s Very-Large Telescope in Chile:

If I can’t see the stars in person, at least I can watch them from the surface of the earth.

Bonus! Here’s an interactive sky map containing billions and billions of stars. Also, the European Southern Observatory’s top 100 space images

Where I’m Starting From

I’ve lived my entire life within a 25-mile radius of my hometown, Canby, Oregon. When I left for college, I didn’t go far: I spent six years in Salem before returning to Canby. I now live closer to Portland, but I’m still only 20 miles from the place where I was raised.

The trailer house where I grew up
The trailer where I grew up. It’s now the office for the family business.

It’s not just me. My father’s family has deep roots in the Willamette Valley. For the fifty short years of his life, Dad barely budged a mile from the home where he grew up. And his father was born and raised less than ten miles from that spot. The Roth family settled the area in 1889 and has never left.

When I was a boy, a big trip was a weekend at the Oregon Coast. Maybe once a year, the family would pile into the car and we’d make the two-hour drive to Lincoln City, where we’d stay at a cheap motel. One time, when I was seven or eight, we drove to Salt Lake City to visit my mother’s family. And once, around the same time, we spent a weekend in Vanderhoof, British Columbia (to which my father had decided he wanted to move). But other than that, we never strayed far from home.

Note: To be fair, my family couldn’t afford to travel. Much of the time, my parents struggled to scrape by. Their priority was to put food on the table for three boys, not to see the country or the world.

For most of my adult life, I’ve remained a homebody. I’ve liked the idea of travel, but lacked the money and the motivation to actually do it. Instead, I’ve explored the world through the eyes of other people. I watch travel shows. (Yay, Rick Steves!) I read books about Europe, Asia, and Africa. I watch foreign films to get a feel for other cultures. Whenever possible, I dine out for Thai or Moroccan or Ethiopian food.

These are small things, I know, but until recently, that’s how I’ve managed to glimpse the wider world.

The Travel Bug

In the summer of 2004, my wife’s parents paid for a family vacation. They took us on a cruise through the Inside Passage, finishing with a couple of days in Anchorage, Alaska.

The cruise itself was largely forgettable — I’m not a cruise kind of guy — but I was enthralled by the various excursions we took at each port of call. At the time, it was tough to rationalize spending so much money to go crabbing or to watch whales or to bike down the Klondike Highway from the U.S.-Canadian border (descending about 850 meters in 33 kilometers). In hindsight, however, it’s these experiences that made the trip worthwhile. Seven years later, I remember each vividly. It was from them that I became infected with the travel bug.

A ten-minute video of our stop in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Over the next few years, my in-laws took the family on other vacations. We spent a week in San Francisco. We traveled to England, Ireland, and New York. I loved each trip. I loved learning about the cities and countries we visited, loved meeting new people, and loved eating the food. Dim sum in San Francisco! Bangers and mash in Bath! Curry in Cork! What I loved most about each trip, though, was finding time to walk alone through the city or countryside.

With each trip, I wanted to travel more, but I couldn’t afford it. Eventually, I paid off my debt and began to channel my savings toward travel. Kris and I took some trips on our own. We spent:

  • A week on the San Juan Islands in northwest Washington.
  • A week exploring the jungles of Belize (with a brief foray into Guatemala).
  • Ten days in Italy followed by two weeks in France.
  • Three weeks in southern Africa, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.

But rather than quench my thirst for travel, each trip has made me want more. And they’ve made we want to see the world in a different way.

In general, Kris and I have traveled with groups on organized tours. These trips have their merits, and they’re great for some travelers. But they make me feel insulated. It’s as if I’m in a bubble, set off from the cultures I’m supposed to be experiencing. I don’t want that. I want to meet people. I want to move slowly through a country, allowing time for the unexpected. I don’t want to be slave to a schedule.

I want to travel on my own terms.

Going It Alone

I’m fortunate. I’ve worked hard over the past five years to not only pay off my debt but to build substantial savings. As long as I cut back on other indulgences, I can afford to travel (especially if I do it cheaply).

I’ve also constructed a lifestyle that allows me to work from anywhere. As long as I have an internet connection, I can write and get paid for it. As a result, it’s possible for me to work from the road — even if the road leads through Quito or Kathmandu or Cape Town.

This flexibility is awesome, of course, but it’s also unique. Like most folks, Kris has a regular job, one that ties her to a specific location. Plus, she’s not as keen as I am to try budget travel. My friends and family are in similar positions. They can’t travel as often as I’d like, and they probably wouldn’t want to travel in the same way.

So, I’ve decided to travel alone.

Starting next month, I’ll experiment with extended solo journeys. I’ll travel lightly, carrying only the things I truly need. (I’ve been paring down my travel kit with each trip; it’s still big by the standards of veteran travelers, but it’s shrinking.) I’ll stay in hostels and dive hotels, the sorts of places Kris is wary of. I’ll do a lot of walking, a lot of talking, and a lot of eating.

Where will I go? That’s the toughest question. I want to go everywhere, and it’s difficult to decide what to see first. For the past month, I’ve been vacillating. First, I wanted to hike Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Then, I wanted to explore Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. Next, I had my heart set on Guatemala. And Ecuador. Plus, what about Thailand? And I have invitations to Rwanda and Nepal, as well. So many options!

But this morning, as I wrote this background, I made a decision. Ever since I visited England in 2007, I’ve wanted to return. I want to see the country at my pace. I want to see Avebury without being rushed. I want to stroll through the Lake Country. I want to visit Wales, to see Huw Morgan’s green valley (or what remains of it). I want to see an Everton football match. And, most of all, I want to walk Hadrian’s Wall.

England isn’t very exotic, I know. That’s okay. There’s plenty of time to see the far corners of the globe. For me, for now, I simply need to make a decision. Which I’ve done. On August 4th, I’ll fly to Indianapolis to spend time with Adam and Courtney. On August 8th, I’ll fly to London. What happens after that? You’ll have to check back here to find out!

Does It ALWAYS Rain in Portland on the Fourth of July?

It seems that over the past few years, it’s become fashionable for Portlanders to complain that it always rains on the fourth of July. In fact, this whining has become something of an epidemic. Nobody wants to make plans outside for Independence Day because of the possibility of rain.

But is it true? Does it really always rain in Portland on the fourth of July? I’m a life-long resident of the area, and I have to say: My memory tells me that Independence Day is usually hot and sunny.

Because I’m tired of arguing about the weather, I dug into the data from the National Weather Service to prove my case. I looked at temperature records and precipitation records.

Here’s climate data for July 4th going back 25 years. What conclusions can you draw from this?

1969: 73/54 (.02)
1970: 88/60 (---)
1971: 70/54 (---)
1972: 97/57 (---)
1973: 81/59 (---)
1974: 76/57 (.06)
1975: 92/53 (---)
1976: 76/59 (.03)
1977: 63/48 (.01)
1978: 65/55 (---)
1979: 75/61 (---)
1980: 66/56 (.05)
1981: 88/61 (---)
1982: 69/54 (.02)
1983: 82/50 (---)
1984: 86/60 (---)
1985: 87/63 (---)
1986: 69/52 (.16)
1987: 69/57 (.02)
1988: 69/51 (---)
1989: 74/52 (---)
1990: 83/59 (.07)
1991: 80/55 (---)
1992: 68/60 (.16)
1993: 73/55 (---)
1994: 67/51 (-T-)
1995: 82/61 (---)
1996: 72/54 (---)
1997: 94/61 (---)
1998: 66/57 (.21)
1999: 67/53 (.14)
2000: 65/54 (-T-)
2001: 84/56 (---)
2002: 70/56 (---)
2003: 80/54 (---)
2004: 77/55 (---)
2005: 84/57 (---)
2006: 77/57 (---)
2007: 90/60 (---)
2008: 72/61 (.01)
2009: 92/59 (---)
2010: 67/53 (---)

As you can see, it doesn’t always rain on Independence Day. In fact, over the past 42 years, it’s only rained fifteen times — and only four times with real conviction. What’s more, over the past twelve years (including today), Portland has only received one one-hundredth of an inch of rain on July 4th.

I’ll admit, however, that I’m wrong when I say the fourth is always hot and sunny. It’s not. There are indeed cool days now and then. But the mean high temperature in Portland on July 4th is 77 degrees Fahrenheit and the mean low is 56. The mean rainfall is two one-hundredths of an inch (though the mode is zero rainfall).

So, there you go: It doesn’t always rain in Portland on the fourth of July. In fact, rain is uncommon, and real rain is rare. The next time somebody complains about rain on Independence Day, you can point them to this page! Somehow, though, I don’t think it’ll change their mind.

Fifty Pounds

Eighteen months ago today, I started a weight-loss journey. On 01 January 2010, I weighed 213 pounds. I was heavier than I’d ever been in my life.

For the first three months, I struggled to find a fitness regimen that worked for me. Eventually I discovered Crossfit. Meanwhile, I learned to eat more healthfully. (I haven’t been perfect over the past eighteen months, but my diet has improved substantially. I eat Real Food most of the time now, and that’s what counts.)

Now, after a year-and-a-half, I’ve reached my goal weight. I’ve lost fifty pounds. Here are the basic stats:

01 Jan 2010: 213# (35% fat, 30% muscle) with 42-1/2 inch waist
01 Jul 2011: 163# (20% fat, 38% muscle) with 32-1/2 inch waist

Since the start of 2010, I’ve dropped fifty pounds from my weight and ten inches from my waistline. I used to carry nearly 75 pounds of fat; today I carry about 33 pounds of fat. In other words, I lost 42 pounds of fat. (I also lost roughly two pounds of muscle. Not sure what the other six pounds were. Brain mass?)

The exciting thing for me (and for Kris, and for my trainer Cody) is that I can now shift my focus from weight loss to general fitness. Instead of stressing over calories, I can concentrate instead on making smart choices with my food, and on making exercise a routine part of my life. (Well, it already is a routine part of my life. But I want to keep it that way.)

If things go according to plan, I’ll maintain at 160 pounds (+/- three pounds) for years to come. When I dropped from 200 pounds to 160 pounds in 1997, I regained ten pounds within a year, and then another ten pounds within two more years. That’s not going to happen again.

I promise you: These fifty pounds are gone for good.