Wednesday, July 29, 2009

9 minutes and counting until I leave for an epic 29 mile through hike in the Beartooths with Whitney!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Beargrass in the Big Creek Lakes area

Cross-cut close-up

Moving the cut piece of a 30+ inch log off the trail

The view from Packbox Pass

Portia, Craig and I on a 30+ inch tree that needs to be removed
The Big Creek hitch went really well. We busted up to the lake in just two days. There was a "crazy axe man" who had been up the trail before us and had cut out most of the downed trees. Unfortunately, he had not cut them to spec and we spent a lot of time correcting his shoddy work. The other unfortunate part of the whole situation was that I think that he was actually using a chainsaw, which is against Wilderness regulations. My speculation is that someone associated with the water rights holders and the dam got impatient and took logging out matters into their own hands. I guess that things like this happen every year and often, our schedule will get shuffled around in order to accommodate water rights holder's wishes to access the dams on lakes. I am mildly disappointed in the fact that my schedule is at the mercy of water rights holders who, for lack of a better word, blackmail us by threatening to log out the trail themselves with chainsaws if we don't get their first with cross-cuts. Is nothing sacred?!
On a brighter side, we saw two black bears! It was so fun to watch them nose around looking for grubs. We also got to cut a couple of trees that were over 30 inches in diameter. We cut the chunks at angels so that they slid off the trail really easily despite their great size and weight. Big Creek Lake was a joy to swim in, the bugs were tolerable and the view from Packbox Pass was astounding. We also got done with the job a day early so we got a nice warm shower and I got to see Mike sooner than expected.
This weekend, I resolved all my car's issues, watched Mike kick ass at softball, picked a bunch of veggies, visited my cats, saw the midnight showing of Harry Potter, tried to organize food and gear for three weeks worth of backpacking, broke my camera (in a way in which the 5 year, very expensive warranty, doesn't cover) retitled my car, dehydrated a ton of fruit and made spent grain granola bars. Mike and I went up to my Grandparent's cabin for two nights too! We went to Glacier and Tamarack Brewery as well as the Mission Mountain Winery and saw the regatta races and the cherry festival in Polson. We played with Beagle Baylea and taught her how to ride in a paddle boat and swim (sort of). And we sat out late on the dock and watched the stars, my favorite.
In the next month, I will be working and backpacking for fun with only one day in the middle that is designated as not in the woods time. Let's all hope the weather is wonderful!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

This weekend, my bunkhouse mate, Stephanie and I went to Seattle. Stephanie hails from New Mexico and has never been to Seattle or anywhere else in the northwest, for that matter. I invite her to come along to Seattle to see Jason Webley's Elevanniversary show. She agreed, especially since her cousin was living on a military base near Seattle and was having a 4th of July/birthday BBQ. This was going to be my first Webley show in a few years. It seems like we have been dancing around each other all over the country and I was never in a town at the right moment to catch a show. Finally, the stars aligned and I was going to see JASON WEBLEY. In the end, while it wasn’t my all-time favorite Webley show, it was still good, a lot of fun, and I'm glad I went.

There was a huge will-call line outside of Townhall, the venue, when we arrived at 7:45. We didn't make it inside until 8:10pm. Apparently, we missed the first performers, Seattle’s Orkestar Zirkonium but they made a second appearence with Jason later. The show itself was divided roughly in half, with the first half devoted to Jason’s friends and collaborators doing short sets on their own, and Jason coming out for the second half. This ended up having some definite pros and cons: on tshohe plus side, we got some more exposure to the people Jason’s been working with over the past few years, all of whom had quite enjoyable sets; however that also meant that Jason himself had a somewhat abbreviated setlist. He didn't play nearly as many songs as he usually does and I didn't hear any of my favorite ballads. He did play a lot of the louder, more exciting, get-everyone-bouncing-around songs though!

The first guest performer up was Andru Bemis, who worked with Jason on the How Big is Tacoma EP, with three of his own songs. Jay Thompson (Eleven Saints) read a few poems. I am so sad that I don't have the Eleven Saints collaboration now. Reverend Peyton, who collaborated with Jason on Two Artichokes and a Bottle of Wine did a couple songs but spent most of his time tuning his guitar. Some of Jason’s goddesses did a silly Billy Joel “We Didn’t Start the Fire”-inspred pseudo-retrospective of Jason’s career, accompanied by only a big bass drum. I don't have Amanda Palmer's collaboration album, Evelyn Evelyn, either. And after her set, I am determined to find it somehow. I am also interested in finding her work with the Dresden Dolls and as a solo artist. After Amanda’s set, we were treated (after some slight technical issues) to a short, four-minute edit of video from Jason’s first public performance from eleven years ago, featuring songs from his first album, Viaje. It was fun to see — younger, shorter hair, a bit more unfinished, but definitely Jason.

Jason performed after the video with his Alex (Sprout) Guy, Jherek Bischoff, and Michael McQuilken. They did a few of Jason’s songs, one from each album including Forever, Once Again, and then he invited his guest performers up one-by-one to perform songs from their collaborative EPs. Before his collaborators started joining him, though, Jason invited onstage one of the first people to welcome Jason into the world of busking when he started all those years ago, Seattle legend Artis the Spoonman, who joined Jason for an incredible performance. After this, Jason and two others changed into white jumpsuits and sunglassed and did a short, bizarre, techno-Devo-ish piece that just seemed odd and out of place.

Next up came a short word about Sunday’s Camp Tomato, along with indoctrinating (or, for many of us, re-indoctrinating) us all into the Tomato Scouts, with both the Tomato Scout Oath and the Tomato Scout Song. Jason read a sweet short story about a boy with a dream of feathers, boats, balloons, tomatoes, and lots of friends, only to wake up to find that the dream was still ongoing. Alex, Jherek and Michael came back on stage and were joined by a string trio of two cellos and one violin. After a few songs, they were joined by the Orkestar Zirkonium and shortly afterwards, Jay Thompson came on for “Eleven Saints."

Many more balloons were launched, both big and small, people got up and danced in the aisles, and the marionette version of Jason from a few years back floated around the room underneath big red balloons. The audience was in a chaos of balloons and dancing and the stage was packed with people and instruments, creating the perfect atmosphere for the grand finale, “Music That Tears Itself Apart."

There was a giant tomato cake over in Freeway Park and Stephanie and I wandered for awhile with other fans to try and find it but were too tired to stay for long and so we headed to my friend's house for the night and slept soundly with visons of balloons and boats and tomatoes running through our dreams.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Backslider's Belgian Wit

Ingredients for Backslider's Wit
The boil
Transfering the Wit to a bucket for bottling ease
Bottled Backslider's Wit
I finally bottled my Belgian Wit! Actually, I am not sure that I ever mentioned that I was brewing beer at all. So yes, I brewed a Belgian Wit several months ago. The recipe goes as follows.
6.75 lbs Dark Wheat Malt Extract
.3 lbs Munich Malt
1 lbs Pilsner Malt
1 Oat Flakes
1.2 oz Hallertuar with 4% alpha acid (60 min)
1.2 oz Kent Hops (5 min)
Fresh orange peels
Pepper corns
Safbrew T-58 yeast - use 4 oz extract and 1.5 L of water to make a slurry
Start with 3 gallons of water at 175 degrees F. Add malts and mash for 30 minutes. Boil 60 minutes. Transfer to the carboy and add 2.5 more gallons of water. Let cool and pitch yeast slurry. I pitched the yeast at 6 am on May 3rd and my 3 pm the krausening rate was 13o bubbles per minute. The original gravity was 1.05. The fermentation slowed remarkable after the initial explosion and the gravity fell slowly. Finally, after 50 days I had a final gravity of 1.011 which would give my beer an alcohol content of about 4 percent. I used about 1.75 cups of dry malt extract to condition the beer before bottling.

The Perfect High
Shel Silverstein

There once was a boy named Gimme-Some-Roy...
He was nothin' like me or you,'cause laying back and getting high was all he cared to do.

As a kid, he sat in the cellar...sniffing airplane glue.
And then he smoked banana peels, when that was the thing to do.
He tried aspirin in Coca-Cola, he breathed helium on the sly, and his life became an endless search to find the perfect high.

But grass just made him wanna lay back and eat chocolate-chip pizza all night,and the great things he wrote when he was stoned looked like shit in the morning light.
Speed made him wanna rap all day, reds laid him too far back,
Cocaine-Rose was sweet to his nose, but the price nearly broke his back.

He tried PCP, he tried THC, but they never quite did the trick.
Poppers nearly blew his heart, mushrooms made him sick.
Acid made him see the light, but he couldn't remember it long.
Hash was a little too weak, and smack was a lot too strong.
Quaaludes made him stumble, booze just made him cry,
Then he heard of a cat named Baba Fats who knew of the perfect high.

Now, Baba Fats was a hermit cat...lived high up in Nepal,
High on a craggy mountain top, up a sheer and icy wall.
"Well, hell!" says Roy, "I'm a healthy boy, and I'll crawl or climb or fly,
Till I find that guru who'll give me the clue as to what's the perfect high."

So out and off goes Gimme-Some-Roy, to the land that knows no time,
Up a trail no man could conquer, to a cliff no man could climb.
For fourteen years he climbed that cliff...back down again he'd slide . . .
He'd sit and cry, then climb some more, pursuing the perfect high.

Grinding his teeth, coughing blood, aching and shaking and weak,
Starving and sore, bleeding and tore, he reaches the mountain peak.
And his eyes blink red like a snow-blind wolf, and he snarls the snarl of a rat,
As there in repose, and wearing no clothes, sits the god-like Baba Fats.

"What's happenin', Fats?" says Roy with joy, "I've come to state my biz . . .
I hear you're hip to the perfect trip... Please tell me what it is.
"For you can see," says Roy to he, "I'm about to die,
So for my last ride, tell me, how can I achieve the perfect high?"

"Well, dog my cats!" says Baba Fats. "Another burned out soul,
Who's lookin' for an alchemist to turn his trip to gold.
It isn't in a dealer's stash, or on a druggist's shelf... S
on, if you would find the perfect high, find it in yourself."

"Why, you jive mother-fucker!" says Roy, "I climbed through rain and sleet,
I froze three fingers off my hands, and four toes off my feet!
I braved the lair of the polar bear, I've tasted the maggot's kiss.
Now, you tell me the high is in myself? What kinda shit is this?

My ears, before they froze off," says Roy, "had heard all kindsa crap;
But I didn't climb for fourteen years to hear your sophomore rap.
And I didn't climb up here to hear that the high is on the natch,
So you tell me where the real stuff is, or I'll kill your guru ass!"

"Okay...okay," says Baba Fats, "You're forcin' it outta me...
There is a land beyond the sun that's known as Zabolee.
A wretched land of stone and sand, where snakes and buzzards scream,
And in this devil's garden blooms the mystic Tzutzu tree.

Now, once every ten years it blooms one flower, as white as the Key West sky,
And he who eats of the Tzutzu flower shall know the perfect high.
For the rush comes on like a tidal wave...hits like the blazin' sun.
And the high? It lasts forever, and the down don't never come.

But, Zabolee Land is ruled by a giant, who stands twelve cubits high,
And with eyes of red in his hundred heads, he awaits the passer-by.
And you must slay the red-eyed giant, and swim the river of slime,
Where the mucous beasts await to feast on those who journey by.
And if you slay the giant and beasts, and swim the slimy sea,
There's a blood-drinking witch who sharpens her teeth as she guards the Tzutzu tree."

"Well, to hell with your witches and giants," says Roy, "To hell with the beasts of the sea--
Why, as long as the Tzutzu flower still blooms, hope still blooms for me."
And with tears of joy in his sun-blind eyes, he slips the guru a five,
And crawls back down the mountainside, pursuing the perfect high.

"Well, that is that," says Baba Fats, sitting back down on his stone,
Facing another thousand years of talking to God, alone.
"Yes, Lord, it's always the same...old men or bright-eyed youth...
It's always easier to sell 'em some shit than it is to tell them the truth."
Shel Silverstein
Artist's rendition of the Blodgett hitch
The sign to the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness

Craig, Rachel and Portia triumphantly sit upon a rock in the midst of Blodgett's biggest problem

Craig and I use the crosscut saw

Portia, Craig and I on one of the problem logs suspended 6 feet in the air

Snow within two miles of Blodgett Lake
As I write this, I am 7 miles in the backcountry, Blodgett Canyon in the Selway Bitterroot Wilderness in the Bitterroot National Forest, to be exact. I am here for the next 8 days with my crew members, Portia and Craig. We are here for work, not play and we will spend the coming days using cross cut saws, sally saws and axes to clear fallen trees from the trail to Blodgett Lake, 6.5 miles away and to High Lake, 2.5 miles away on a spur trail. We may also clean some water bars, if we have time. This is the task that my crew will do all summer long, 8 days on, 6 days off. We don’t brush, we don’t construct things, we don’t do anything complicated or requiring more than a saw, axe or Pulaski. I like how simple this is, nothing fancy. Most of our work is in the Wilderness so no motorized equipment is allowed! We work independently to clear small trees with sally saws and together to clear big trees and matchstick piles with a crosscut saw. The two people operating the crosscut saw pull alternately. It is a really cool tool and has a lot history. The old-time loggers used the saws to cut down huge old growth trees in the Pacific Northwest. They would use springboards to help them get high enough to cut above the swell of the base of the tree. Can you imagine cutting down a tree that 5 people holding hands couldn’t hug from five or ten feet up? I can’t! Old-timers were fairly talented!

I was concerned that our crew would have an awkward dynamic. Portia is the crew leader and has ten years of experience under her belt, but I still have a tendency to challenge her and we both tend to be alpha females. I have been struggling to be more receptive to her leadership. However, she needs to give me more credit and trust that I am knowledgeable and competent as well. Other than that, we get along quite well. She tells great jokes, when she remembers them, and we have had some fairly good chats. In many ways, she is very inspirational. She is strong, independent, well traveled, goal-oriented and has a perfect balance of care-freeness and a feeling of responsibility and professionalism. For example, she insists that we be sensitive to Craig’s plight as the only male on the crew and use the word “elbow” instead of “crotch,” etc… Craig has been fairly aloof all season. I think that he is morally and ethically very upset with his involvement in such a dysfunctional beast as the United States Government. He sees little use in “making work” and can’t stand any paperwork, office work or any work that he deems pointless. In many ways, Portia and I can’t stand the same things that he can’t stand, but we see that there are trade offs whereas he feels that there shouldn’t have to be trade offs in the first place. His distaste translates into a piss-poor attitude for which I don’t really have any tolerance. However, I conceded to Portia’s leadership, she adopted some of my ideas and Craig was just happy to “out” so the dynamic was actually quite pleasant.

The mosquitoes are attacking us in armies. They are more prolific than I think that I have ever experienced in my life. I am covered in welts and itchyness. I haven’t seen the night sky yet, because I retire to my tent soon after eating dinner in order to escape their maddening pricks. We encountered a giant “problem” of matchsticked trees. All of them were over 8 inches and suspended at least 5 feet off the ground. One had uprooted and fallen in such a way that it’s rootwad was halfway on the trail. Rootwads are heavy to move and we spent a lot of time digging out the soil entangled within the roots. The problem took most of the afternoon and we will have to return tomorrow to move the rootwad.

Portia, Craig and I are sharing dinner cooking duties. We were packed in by a string of two mules, so we were able to be fairly liberal with the weight of the food items that we brought. The first night Craig cooked little mini pizzas on pita bread. They were so tasty I was simply delighted by them. Imagine having pizzas in the backcountry!!! Portia cooked a tasty curry coconut stir fry minus the curry for the second night and I made burritos the third night. We all brought different forms of pasta to share for the next there nights. I made some homemade garlic basil bread that should serve us well for the three pasta nights in a row. I made a daring move by bringing in a pint of yogurt. Craig brought a dry bag and we have been stowing our perishables in the creek. The yogurt should last me for 5 days worth of breakfasts! I have been having homemade dried fruit medleys, hummus tortillas and trail mix for lunch.

We cleared all the way to the lake today. The snow began in patches about two miles from the lake and we were mostly cutting out avalanche toppled sub-alpine fir. Finally, the snow got so deep, we lost the trail and stopped clearing. The scenery was beautiful-steel-grey granite ridges back-grounded by bright blue sky. The half moon was rising over the cliffs hung with cornices of snow. Unfortunately, I was grumpy yesterday and my mood was only mildly lightened by the triumph of finishing the trail to the lake. I was grumpy for several reasons. We have been out camping together for 5 days, the bugs have been bad and my toe and heels have been hurting. The main reason that I was grumpy though was because Portia tried to instruct me on how to use the crosscut saw better in front of Craig. She took over the sawing to demonstrate and didn’t let me finish the cut. It made me feel like I was worthless and useless. I was particularly frustrated because I felt like the main thing that she was telling me to correct was the main thing that I was already correcting. I went into a tiff and worked on my own for the rest of the day. However, I thought about it and realized that everyone can learn something from everyone else. So I apologized for my poor attitude and asked if we could do some cuts together and work on my techniques.

Portia and I cut several logs together this morning and the rest of the day went a lot better. We were working on a spur trail to High Lake. The trail gains 2000ft in less than two miles. That is steep! There are tons of logs down too. We were hoping to finish the trail today but only got about three quarters of a mile up. I am covered in bruises, cuts and insect bites. My pinkie toe hurts and my heels hurt like nothing I have ever felt before. I am breaking in new boots that I got so that my pinkie toe would be less constricted. My lips are chapped, my nose is dry and bleeding, my crotch, or should I say elbow, itches. Right now, I am so ready for a shower, a humidifier, baby powder, a salad and a massage.

We came up with inspiration quotes for the day. I originally was going to go with Vini, Vidi, Vichi (Ceasar’s I came, I saw, I conquered). But then I decided to go with my own original quote that set the tenor for the whole day. Whenever the going gets tough, just take off your pants.” The quote was inspired by the river crossing that we had to make several times a day which required us to take off our pants and boots. We made it to High Lake today! The last mile was a scramble over snowfields and talus slopes. We dropped our tools and just hiked. It was gorgeous and bug-free at the 7500 feet and it felt great. Portia told a great joke. They always seem to involve body movements. This one was about a couple doing yard work. The guy is in the front yard and the gal is in the back yard. The guy jesters to the girl that he needs the rack by acted out raking. She doesn’t understand and he continues the sign language. The sign language could easily be misinterpreted for “I need sex.” Finally the girl gets it and gestures back by pointing to her eye, her left shoulder, grabbing her butt and then her crotch. The guy doesn’t get it so he walks over there and says it to her face. She replies by saying, “I know! I (pointing to her eye), left it (pointing to her left shoulder) behind (grabbing her butt) the bush (grabbing her crotch). Ha ha. Portia also read us a couple poems around the camp fire in the evening. She wrote one of them and the other was by Shel Silverstien called The Perfect High.

We hiked out of the woods and cleared drainage ditches. We also had to clear some trees that had fallen while we were in the woods. It was sheer joy to hear music on the radio! We cleaned tools and did time sheets. Then I gave Mike a call and went to have a beer at the Brewery. I had a single hop that I found to be quite intoxicating and the two old salts sitting next to me couldn’t stop regaling me with stories from the old days. This is how it goes at the brewery, I meet old men that love to tell me stories and I love to listen. Fitz was in old western movies with his horses and Eric has been around the world twice. Al believes that he was a banana slug in a past life and Bill’s dad used to be a ranger for the Forest Service. Bob was a trucker has had four wives and it goes on and on. I finally ripped myself away from them because Mike was preparing grilled portabella mushrooms and brussel sprouts and a salad for dinner, the perfect ending to an epic first 8 day hitch.