Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lima, Peru: The buddy pass has landed

My hiking friend Sandra's arrival in Lima, Peru early yesterday morning has been a long time coming. Just as Kathy and I discovered en route to Rome, Italy last weekend (link), flying standby can require a lot of flexibility and patience.

Following a hike last summer, Sandra told me at Dairy Queen about her dreams to spend a year backpacking around South America, followed by Europe, and then Australia... But I'll let Sandra share her complete, ongoing story on her own blog.

Here is a photo from our Mount Hood area hike:

Hiking up Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain with NW Wilderness, for my buddy Chatchay's birthday

Sandra excitedly took me up on my offer of a Delta buddy pass to fly from Portland to South America (hopefully in the Business Elite class cabin!) on the cheap.

But things went sideways last week, the result of scheduling conflicts which pushed back Sandra's itinerary a bit. The remaining flights to Peru, Argentina, Chile, and even Australia looked uncertain. Long story short, a planned overnight stay in Atlanta with her cousin Bob was extended by four nights until she FINALLY got an upgraded seat to Lima. And two of those nights were spent in the ATL airport. Without earplugs!

Sandra sustained an impossibly positive attitude throughout what became my longest buddy pass ordeal to date, by far. It was all part of the adventure. In contrast, I've sponsored other buddy pass riders who scored Business Elite seats overseas with less effort and also a bit less graciousness (including a good friend who nurtured a cold shoulder until recently regarding a trip to Italy, and another who was strangely harsh to Kathy). But the opportunity to do my small part to help so many other friends like Sandra achieve her dreams make it worth the risk!

Sandra's sunny outlook has finally landed her in the sunnier climate of South America. And she'll be backpacking through for quite a while... until she reaches the next continent.

Safe travels, amiga! Our paths may cross again in some of the most unlikely corners of the world.

Readers can stay up to date with Sandra and her world travels by following her travel blog, appropriately titled www.bucketlistchecker.blogspot.com. The link is also on my sidebar below.

Monday, December 8, 2014

From Rome: Traveling to Africa, Nicaragua, South Korea, or ANYWHERE?

Flying standby overseas in early December is usually pretty easy for us.  Flights loads are lighter.  But our recent winning streak of hassle-free international trips came to a screeching halt this week.

Update 12/8/14:  Originally uploaded from Italy on Saturday morning, I reposted this story today with some bonus photos from Rome.  Plenty of more Italy photos are coming!

Kathy's and my South African safari should have wrapped up on Friday, freeing up this weekend to swing by Italy to see some friends.  Even if I ran out of time to make it to their villa, we could still meet in Central Italy for a Saturday night out in Rome.  It all seemed like a sure thing.

But then this week happened.

Nervous, Kathy?  Not to worry, Kathy totally gave me permission to share this pic, en route to Seattle.

Attempt #1:  PDX to Atlanta to South Africa

Kathy was fearful of traveling back to South Africa on Monday, even more so than our recent overseas trips. The anxiety was too much for poor Kathy, and for days there was nothing I could do or say to console her. To make matters worse, last October our South African outlet adapter had literally caught on fire in our dorm in Spain. We knocked out the power to the entire wing of our Madrid hostel!

The night before we were scheduled to fly down to South Africa for our safari, I mercifully suggested an alternate destination. South Africa would be our first of many attempts this week.

Attempt #2:  PDX to Atlanta to Nicaragua

I stayed up all night on Monday reworking our plans: where to surf in Nicaragua, which active volcanoes to climb, and which hiking trails would be enjoyable for Kathy. But Tuesday morning, we were unable to get on our Atlanta flight to connect to Managua. We flew Business Class to Seattle instead, attempting to catch a red eye flight to Atlanta. Shortly after we landed in Seattle, the red eye became completely oversold.

Central America was out, and we were stuck overnight in Seattle until Wednesday.

Attempt #3:  Seattle to South Korea

Wednesday's Seattle flight to Seoul looked open. We overnighted in Burien with our good Warner Pacific friends Michael and Melanie. Readers may remember Michael from little Lena's first Daddy-daughter trip to Seattle this fall. Here's the link to that story.

Camera one, camera two.  And camera three?

But on Wednesday morning, we were unable to get on our flight from Seattle to Seoul. And all flights to Atlanta (or to any of Delta's international hubs) were oversold for days.

Making progress:  Seattle to Los Angeles

Finally!  We got unstuck from Seattle and flew to L.A on Wednesday afternoon.  This was our last chance this week to transfer to Atlanta and fly overseas, though the LAX-ATL red eye flight was slightly oversold.  Regardless of which country we visited first, the clock was ticking until I had to be in Italy on Saturday night.

More progress: Los Angeles to Atlanta

Against all odds, we didn't get stuck in LAX overnight. The oversold red eye flight to Atlanta gradually opened up enough for Kathy and I to grab the last two seats. Together!

Upon landing in Atlanta before dawn on Thursday morning, we discovered that our doable international connections from ATL now looked horrible until the NEXT day. We had run out of time to visit any counties prior to our arrival in Rome, which wasn't even our main destination.  Italy was merely intended to be a fun way to cap off a week of continent hopping.

The white flag:  Atlanta it is.

We made the most of our extra day in Atlanta. We hiked to the top of Stone Mountain, negotiated an outrageously low rate for a premium hotel suite, and kicked off our tour of the Atlanta nightlife with the Cowboys vs. Bears game at J. R. Cricket's.  Dallas steamrollered Chicago, of course.

A quick afternoon hike to the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia

Our flight to Rome was less than a day away. But Kathy decided that she was content with our unplanned domestic vacation as is. The night before our flight left for Italy, she eagerly removed her name from our listing and booked a flight home to Portland instead. The tail end of our vacation week would be solo.

Back on schedule: Atlanta to Rome

This is where our vacation went back to normal (for us): A Business Elite cabin seat over the ocean, an early arrival in Rome with plenty of time for sightseeing with my friends, and an opportunity for the craziest Saturday night out that Rome has ever seen!  Let's hope!

But that will be a story for another travel post.

12/8/14:  Here are a couple pics from my upcoming Rome post:

The Roman coliseum: Who knew that the Eternal City would take an eternity to get to?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Southern Oregon road trip, Pt. 2: Wildlife Safari

Mommy and Lena get a shotgun seat view of a giraffe as I drive through the Winston Wildlife Safari

In the company of friends again

...Continued from Southern Oregon Road Trip, Part 1: Visits and hikes (link).  And consider this story the unofficial prequel to our upcoming safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  Let's hope we make those flights!

Guest blogger Kathy picks up our Southern Oregon road trip story where my Part 1 left off:  After the driving, visiting, and hiking.  Thanks to Kathy for writing this post.  I was happy to merely be on tap to plug and caption the safari photos.  Enjoy!

We had a great time so far with our hiking, visiting, and swimming.  On our final morning down south, we took advantage of the continental breakfast the hotel offered and then set off for the Wildlife Safari in Winston.

Neither Garth nor I had been to the Winston Wildlife Safari since childhood. We were so excited for Lena experience it, too!  Levi was too little to care.

Once Garth drove through the gate, we were allowed to take Lena out of her car seat to sit on our laps up front.  She was thrilled!

As we began making our way through the safari, I forgot how up close and personal the animals could be.  Lena loved seeing all the animals: lions, giraffes, rhinos walking right next to our car, bears, and the list goes on.

Lions resting in the shade

A zebra mixed in with the herd

A hungry giraffe stops traffic ahead of us

Black bear UFC pond/cage match: Tag team edition

Lena brakes for llamas

Buffalo roam

Lucky for this deer, another safariing family had randomly given us a bag of animal feed

This emu poked his beak inside our cab a bit too aggressively for Lena's taste

"I'll take the wheel from here, Daddy."

Baby Levi watches with envy as Mommy lets Lena ride the bear

Lena runs through the Australian Outback

We've got no food, got no jobs... our parrots' HEADS ARE FALLING OFF!!

Levi, Mommy, me, and Lena leaving the Australian Walkabout

Before Garth and I started driving the kids back up north, we made a final stop to visit friends who live 10 minutes from Wildlife Safari.  It was nice to catch up and see how big their girls are getting.

Beating the heat with longtime friends

Thus, we began the long journey home.  A stop for burgers and ice cream at Rice Hill was a must do.

Lena and Levi got plenty of sleep on the drive home, even as we stopped to redeem yet another Groupon for the grownups.

Lena reminisces about the safari animals with one of her favorite books, "I Love My Daddy Because..."
(At least that's MY vote for her favorite book!)

Thanks again, Kathy, for writing about our first ever road trip with our all-new Hamilton Four.  Lena and Levi would've loved to join us on the upcoming African safari that we have planned.

And it's a shame that the L's can't come along on our REAL Australian walkabout in 2015!

Bonus Vine video:

Click the mute button for audio of two bears throwing down at the Wildlife Safari

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Southern Oregon road trip, Pt.1: Visits and hikes

It's no secret (depending on the trip, anyway) that we've been flying a lot in the off-season.  While a typical spring or fall Hamilton weekend away can easily snowball into an overseas adventure, some of our summertime family trips happen right here in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Kathy began devising a plan that would involve:
  1. Rivaling my international trip-planning exploits with Kathy's domestic leanings.
  2. Our first ever road trip as the Hamilton Four, now including baby Levi.
  3. Visiting friends anywhere between Eugene and Roseburg.
  4. Using a Groupon for the Wildlife Safari in Winston.  Kathy will be sharing a blog post about the safari and those friend visits in a few days!

In exactly the same way as I plan for those international trips, our friends in southern Oregon were put on notice that we may be passing through.  Everyone who responded with interest to my messages/calls got penciled into our itinerary.  The only difference here in the U.S. was that Kathy handled all of the non-social logistics of the trip this time!  I just came along for the ride.

The drive down south

Working on connecting with friends, and getting started with stamping our McMenamin's "passport" in Eugene during the journey to the Umpqua Valley

Hiking and exploring the Umpqua Valley

The beauty of the Umpqua River

Fly fishing on the Umpqua River

Starting the evening rounds early in Roseburg

Lena's first time in a swimming pool!

Winding down in Roseburg's warmer waters

Kathy's been anxious to share about the following day in Winston, so she'll be our guest blogger for this upcoming week.  I'll start rounding up some safari photos for her in the meantime.

Bonus:  Kathy writing Part 2 will buy me some time to tackle my massive backlog of traveling and outdoor adventure posts!

Coming the week (afterThanksgiving...

Part 2- Kathy shares about the Wildlife Safari!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Disconnected: A home without internet

For backpackers and travelers like our family (and many of you readers), getting by without internet is something we prepare for. Offline plans and supplies are essential when in the wilderness or overseas without data. We return messages and tweets when we return to civilization. And, as I'm doing right now, I write travelogues and such on my phone and post them to Blogspot later... usually to my other blog.

An unplanned internet outage in the midst of our daily life, however is a different story. Our internet router blew up last week just hours before I was to head out to lead two hikes near Mount Adams.

Last minute details were unfinished and unsent to our hiking group. Plus, there were (and are) time-sensitive ministry reports, student lessons, travel blog drafts, Kathy's post about our Southern Oregon visits, trip reports from previous hikes, and announcements for upcoming hikes (I prefer to post my NW Wilderness events at least half a week in advance) that remain stuck on my laptop.

Even for a First World problem, this is admittedly petty. An inconvenient disruption.

Our phones have data plans, and it's not like I can't bum WiFi from a local coffee shop to upload whatever I need. And though we're not big movie or TV watchers, eliminating the threat of Netflix streaming through our PS3 guarantees more time for playing, praying, and reading together as a family.
(Continued below)

A gratuitous pic of Levi and Lena from this morning:

One of my current reads, "Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology" by Eric Brende, is a thoughtful meditation on offline living. Highly recommended. This post is not that.

In fact, I'll sheepishly confess that I remain unrepentant in my embrace of technology. But I see it mainly as a tool to connect with people I care about and get us all outdoors, away from the internet.

And speaking about getting outdoors...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Climbing Mount St. Helens

Our scheduled Mount Rainier climb (as usual, links to earlier posts are in blue) was only a few weeks away. The plans for Mount Rainier last month ultimately did fall apart at the last minute. But Mount St. Helens was a fun addition to the string of easier conditioning hikes and climbs intended to train for climbing Rainier in August.

A catch-up post from July:

Photo from Sam's camera

I've climbed Mount St. Helens countless times.  But this latest Mount St. Helens climb was posted by NW Wilderness months in advance, and booked to capacity.  I was part of a very long wait list.  To my surprise, a climbing permit was freed up a couple weeks before the climb. Long story short: I was in!

Suffering from a painful, off-trail hiking foot injury (see my Fear of the Unknown: Hiking Wahkeena Falls to Larch Mountain post) and adjusting to new orthotic inserts, I was ready to put my recovering foot to the test.

3:15 a.m. on July 5 was the moment when I limped that injured foot out the door to meet up with the group in Portland.  My earlier post, Lil' Buckaroos at the Buckaroo Rodeo, shares the story and photos from our Hamilton family's Fourth of July celebration the evening before.

We picked up our climbing permits in Cougar just after the register opened. Less than an hour later, prior to 7 a.m., we had geared up at Climbers' Bivouac and were already heading up the trail to timberline. It would be a glorious day, with the perfect group of friends.

Trip stats (from Craig's GPS/ altimeter)

Distance: 10.5 miles
Elapsed time: 8:03:05
Moving time: 5:17:16
Stopped time: 2:45:49
Avg overall speed: 1.3 mph
Avg moving speed: 2.0 mph
Min elevation: 3743 ft (trailhead)
Max elevation: 8330 ft (near true summit)
Ascent: 4968 ft

Craig's trip report is here.

Setting out from Climbers' Bivouac:  Janice, Tongbay, Craig, Sam, Barbara, Jurgen, and me
(Photo from Sam's camera) 

The ascent

Reaching timberline
(Photo from Craig's GPS unit)

Beginning the boulder fields (no good pictures of the fun stuff, as it was tricky for me to free up a camera hand while scrambling)

Climbing over the top of the ridge

Photo by Sam

Barbara and Janice choose a route over the ridges

Craig and I sidestep over to the snow fields for a steeper, but more direct, approach

The most HILARIOUS photo bomb that I've ever fell victim too--  Thanks, Craig!!
Craig's alternate photo bomb on this slope was randomly featured in my post, Twin Lakes Hike.

The final stretch

A quick break near the Monitor Ridge station

Think you're keeping pace with Sam, but then you stop for just a moment to snap a photo?  Be prepared for this view, up in the distance (Read: Sam is fast).

The rest of the gang reaches the rim

But where's Janice?  Oh that's right... she reportedly tagged the rim after us and then scurried back down to the car to flee the biting winds and cold.   Poor thing.

The rest of us couldn't stop laughing.  We all still love you, Janice!

The rim, the crater, and views from the top

The lava dome, Spirit Lake, and Mount Rainier

Looking back at the Monitor Ridge route

Tongbay and I wait for the group to reach the rim, while Sam gets a head start over to the true summit and back

We boys traverse over to the true summit

Photo by Sam:  He must have snapped this while running back over to join us

Photo by Sam

Mount Rainier seemed like the perfect backdrop, assuming that I would climb it a few weeks later

Photo by Sam

Only Sam (blue jacket) is visible on the rocks above, as we all climb back over the true summit to join the girls across the rim for lunch.

The descent

Glissading down from the rim

Vine video:  Slowing down, but still nearly mowing down Tongbay during my glissade

Running, jumping, and sliding:  Jurgen and I do whatever it takes to race down the mountain
(Photo from Craig's GPS unit)

Barbara leads a final charge down to timberline, beginning our woodsy hike back to Climber's Bivouac
(Photo from Craig's GPS unit)

I've climbed Mount St. Helens nearly a dozen times, and the glissading or backcountry skiing down is always the highlight. But I've NEVER glissaded quite as many snow fields or had more hilarious fun with anyone than on this descent!

I blame the people.

On our next climb a couple weeks later, though, we would have a dramatically more terrifying ride. In two weeks, we'd be using our glissading skills to negotiate our descent of the icy slopes of Mount Adams.

Very rapidly!

But before our Mount Adams climb drops on Garth's Blog...

A guest post by Kathy about our family's hiking, the wildlife safari, and visiting friends in Southern Oregon!