Tuesday, November 12, 2019

W. Bruce Cameron's A Dog's Purpose

My mom found the second book in this series in a book exchange.  She read the first line and fell in love.  She devoured the book.

When she moved on to the first, I decided to read it at the same time.

Yes, it's sentimental.  Some might even call it sappy.  But it was exactly what I needed at the moment. 

So charming, heart-warming, heart-breaking.  Just a beautiful book.

I did rather question at first whether the point of view would work, since the point of view character (a dog) relates things that he himself doesn't understand.  But…it totally worked.

It did get a bit repetitive with regards to the theme at the end, but that's about the only criticism I can even think of.  

I rarely give five stars to novel.  This deserved it.  And I am absolutely going to read others in the series.

Warning: it may be too sweet for some readers

Saturday, November 9, 2019

NaNoWriMo Rebel

This year for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I'm being a rebel.  Instead of writing a new novel, I'm revising one of my previous novels that I really like but haven't been able to finish because of the difficulty of weaving the two timelines together. 

I really like the novel.  It's probably my favorite so far.  By the end of November, I hope to have a finished product (or at least a penultimate draft that just needs a bit of line editing and polishing).

Good luck to all you NaNoWriMo writers--and rebels--out there!


Sunday, October 27, 2019

Hiking Humphrey's Peak--the Highest Point in Arizona

If you've ever wanted to hike Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona, I'd say, "Go for it!"  But plan ahead.

Me at the saddle
I did it for the first time in the middle of October this year, while the aspen were putting on quite a show.

Aspen grove near the trailhead--later in the afternoon
I've heard that the best months are June (snow gone/mostly gone, not yet monsoon season) and October (monsoons over, leaves turning, not yet too cold). 

I agree about October.  I really, really enjoyed my time.  It was quite chilly in the morning.  The coldest part was when the winds really picked up coming down from the peak.  Temps were barely above freezing and the wind was fierce enough that it made my nose and my lips on the windward side go numb for a few minutes.  I was very glad I'd packed some winter wear.  I dawdled and geo-cached and enjoyed myself on the way down, and by the time I got to the gorgeous aspen groves near the trailhead, it was a very pleasant temperature:  a bit chilly, but with nice warming sun.  I much prefer hiking while chilly to hiking while hot.  And you definitely lose less water.

Next time, I'll have to try June and compare.

I also went on a Monday, to try to reduce crowds.  Though the aspen groves near the trailhead were full of leaf gawkers, I had the rest of the Humphreys Peak trail almost to myself all morning.  The afternoon was busier but not bad.  I've heard that weekends in summer can be Disneylandish.

First good views from the trail--and so colorful!
Because I knew that the altitude, paired with fairly good elevation gain, might be a challenge, I did several good training hikes through the summer, including high-elevation practice near Flagstaff and the Mogollon Rim.  I'm glad I did the training, because when I finally tried Humphreys Peak…it wasn't nearly as hard as I'd expected.  Yes, I had to go slower than usual and stop more often to catch my breath, especially the last 1500 feet or so, but it really wasn't bad.  I remember once—when I was less in shape—taking a very short uphill walk at about 11,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and huffing and puffing like crazy.  That memory is what made me train.  And I guess it worked. 

If you're not experienced with either the altitude or the elevation gain, I suggest doing some training before you try Humphreys Peak.  It will make it a much more pleasant experience. 

At the summit!

Hike details:

Length:  About 9.5 miles (15 km) roundtrip

Elevation Gain:  About 3340 feet (1019 m)

Elevation at Summit: 12.633 feet (3851 m) So, yeah…the air might be thinner than you're used to.

Trailhead:  about 14 miles (23 km) out of Flagstaff, at Arizona Snowbowl, Flagstaff's ski resort.  Take US 180 to the Snowbowl turnoff.  The trail takes off from the first big parking lot.  There are outhouses at the trailhead, and if the chairlift is open, there are nicer restrooms, food, etc. there.  Just follow the road up a bit into the ski resort.  You can also take other trails from this trailhead (though currently they're doing earth work and the Aspen Nature Loop is re-routed)

Views from near the summit of Humphreys Peak

If you go, take:

-Plenty of water.  A gallon is the recommendation on warm days.  You may be able to reduce a little on cool days or if you have done this or similar trails before and know how much you need.  Remember, though, that there's no water on the mountain.  If something goes dangerously wrong, you may have to wait hours—or overnight—for help.  Or walk a different and far longer route than you expected.  You want to have enough water that you won't get dangerously dehydrated during an unexpected delay.

-Plenty of food, including some salty snacks for electrolytes

-Layers appropriate to the weather (remembering that conditions at Flagstaff, at the trailhead, and at the peak are all very different, and it's often windy above the treeline).  I started on a very chilly morning in mid October.  Forecast on the peak was barely above freezing with 25 mph winds.  I was very glad I had gloves, scarf, winter hat, and three layers.  Summer will be different, but still be prepared for significantly cooler and windier conditions above the tree line. 

-Good shoes you've already broken in.  I recommend hiking boots for their serious tread and ankle support, but it's doable in good sneakers. 

-Other safety gear (they recommend whistle, knife, flashlight, first aid kit, matches/lighter, sleeping bag/emergency blanket, map/gps etc.)

Volcanic Glory--Agassiz Peak

If you go, do this:

-Start early.  Like, really early.  ESPECIALLY IN MONSOON SEASON (roughly July-August, sometimes a little earlier or later) plan on getting to the peak, enjoying some time there, and heading back down by 11:30 AM at the latest so you can return to the protection of the trees before afternoon storms hit.  That means most people should be starting by 6:30 AM..  Start earlier if you're a leisurely hiker or haven't trained sufficiently for the altitude and/or elevation gain.  If you're hiking outside of monsoon season and there's "no chance" of storm according to the forecast, a slightly later start time will usually be fine, but don't push it too much.

-TURN BACK if it gets stormy. Lightning can kill on peaks like this.  Even if the forecast predicts clear weather, things can change.

-Pace yourself, especially if you're not used to the altitude.

-Stay the night before in Flagstaff or higher elevation to start acclimatizing--and so you can get that important early start.

-Consider taking aspirin the night before and the morning of your hike. I'm told it helps against altitude sickness headaches. I would suggest also taking a dose during or after the hike if you start getting headachy. 

-Drink that water you're carrying.

-Eat more than normal

-Take pictures

-Go with a companion for the most safety. If you love solo hiking, at least make sure someone knows where you're going and when to expect you back.

-Try to go on a weekday for less crowds.

If you choose to hike up the Inner Basin, here's your path.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Mount Humphrey Summit

Humphrey's Peak: Arizona's highest point.

For my non-American readers, 12,633 feet is 3851 meters.

The air was a little thinner than what I'm used to (just over 1000 feet), but besides huffing and puffing more than usual, it wasn't bad.

Views were great, especially with the aspen putting on their spectacular fall show.

And yes, the hat and gloves were very much appreciated. If mountain-forecast.com was right, it couldn't have been more than 33-34 F (1 C) with winds up to 25 mph (40 kph). Coming from Phoenix, where we've barely started cooling down to highs in the high 80s (low 30s C) it was quite an abrupt change. When the wind really came up as I was hiking down from the peak on those treeless, rocky slopes, my nose and lips on the windward side of my face actually felt numb for a few minutes. :)

Fantastic hike!

Fantastic day!

Total hike stats (including the jaunt at the end into the gorgeous fall aspen grove, down to the Arizona Trail, and back up to the trailhead):

Distance: 11 miles / 17.5 km
Elevation Gain: 3953 feet (1205 m)
Geocaches Found: 1
Friends Made at the Peak: 4
Squirrels Watched: several
Aspen Gawked at: many more
Maximum Layers Worn: 4
Pictures Taken: 205
Other Times in my Life I've Stood at such High Elevation: 0

More details later, should you care to try this yourself.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

A Year in Vsetin--Time-Lapse Video

This is one of the reasons an Arizona girl like me loves Czech (the Czech Republic):

I miss seasons. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Pier 91 in Seattle--Budget Style

So, if you've read much of my blog or my books, you know I'm a budget traveler...who also likes cruising.  These two things are generally a bit at odds.

So, how does a budget cruiser get to the cruise port to board her ship?  Why, she takes public transportation or walks, of course.

Sometimes this is a snap, like in Vancouver.  Pier 66 in Seattle isn't too bad either, though it may require some stairs or steep streets.  But Seattle's Pier 91 (Smith Cove Terminal) is a bit more exciting.

We stayed the night before in Seattle, as I always advise, so we began our trip from downtown.  Since I was traveling with my mom, who is a super trooper--but cannot walk as far or as vigorously as I can--I'd booked a hostel (yes, a hostel, not a hotel) near a bus route that went straight to Magnolia, past the Smith Cove Terminal (currently buses #33 and #24).  The morning of embarkation, I dragged my mom and our suitcases to the bus stop, hauled everything on, paid our fare--in exact change--and set off.  This particular trip, the in-route entertainment was provided by a good mother singing and doing fingerplays with her cute little baby.  After a bit of a ride, we saw our ship and the Magnolia Bridge.  This is the point where you should ask the driver where to let you off.  Because...well...it's not exactly impressive or obvious.

The bus stopped and we were the only ones it dumped out on the side of the road on the Magnolia bridge.  I have a feeling only a small percentage of cruisers arrive by this particular method.

Here's the view:

See that staircase going beneath the bridge?  Well, here's a closer view:

Yup.  Walk toward that elegant loading dock with the topsy-turvy pile of cardboard boxes.  Then haul your suitcases down the rusty staircase into the dark underbelly of this concrete bridge:

Carry both suitcases on the stairs, but let your poor mom pull hers down the ramp:

Navigate through the closed gate, down more steps, and past the guardhouse where there may or may not be a guard who barks, "You can't come through here--you have to go back up" and then bursts out laughing at your faces.  Don't worry, he'll let you through.

Now all you have to do is walk to that ship in the distance.

My mom was amazing!

Price: $2.75 for adults, $1 for seniors
All the adventure and the humble-brag rights:  priceless

For tips on having your own budget adventures in Alaska and the Northwest, read my travel guides:

Friday, October 4, 2019

Plane on a Train? How Can That Be?

Here's something you don't see every day:

I was in downtown Seattle and looked up and thought, "What?"

A plane.  On a train.  Just chugging along the tracks. 

Okay, so it wasn't quite a plane yet.  The wings weren't attached, and it was all shrink-wrapped like beef jerky.  I guess you have to move planes around sometimes. I just hadn't thought of it much before.

Before I traveled between Germany and Denmark, I'd never imagined trains on boats, either, but our train pulled right onto the ferry.  Amazing stuff. 

It all goes to show...trains are COOL. 

The whole thing reminded me of Dr Seuss in Hop on Pop:

Friday, September 27, 2019

Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Visitor Center--Seattle Unit

Of all the museums you can visit in Seattle, this one probably has the longest name.   It's also awesome.

If you're interested in the Klondike Gold Rush or history in general, you'll love this.  And if you're in Seattle on your way to Alaska or the Klondike, just like the gold rushers, this will be of particular interest.  

The museum is extremely well put together.  I especially like how you can follow about six  historical characters' stories from Seattle to the Klondike and the aftermath of the Gold Rush.  I also love the "passport" they give you that you can stamp or do rubbings on at different stations.  The short film is excellent.  There are demonstrations, talks, and even walking tours.  The displays are good.  The signs are full of information about how life really was for these adventurers--not just dry facts and dates.  The museum is big enough to easily hold your attention for a couple of hours (or more), but small enough not to be overwhelming.  Just like its sister museum in Skagway, this is a fantastic place, made even more fantastic by the fact that it's FREE!  If you can, donate a couple of dollars to help support this awesome museum.  

Sobering statistics about who struck it rich in the Klondike (though many people who didn't find any gold at all talked fondly about how it was the biggest adventure of their lives):

Here's the wheel you spin to see if you would have been one of those lucky few:

I struck it rich!

Possible routes to the Klondike, all with pros and cons.  One station challenges you to decide which route you would take.

And here's a simple little packing list.  The Klondike Gold Rush was arguably the thing that turned Seattle into a thriving city.  Provisioning all those gold rushers was quite a boon for the economy.

Just imagine carrying all that up the Chilkoot Pass!  

For more on Skagway, Alaska and the Klondike Gold Rush, check out my article on Go Nomad: "Skagway, Alaska and the Yukon Route Railroad"

For tips on traveling to these places yourself, read my travel guides:

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

A Grand--but Empty--Train Station

The magnificent train station in Seattle, Washington:

It's beyond beautiful.  But take a look at that departures board.

Here's a close-up:

This seems to be departures AND arrivals.  The evening's train schedule includes 6 entries.  And three of them aren't even trains.  I can't help comparing this to Prague's train station, where there would be four much-larger displays full of dozens of departing trains...just for the next couple of hours.  Or even the train station in Vsetin (population around 27,000), on a somewhat out-of-the-way rail line, where there are often 2-3 departures within any given hour.

I miss Europe.

I found the lone employee at the empty ticket desk at the Seattle train station.  He was, in fact, the only person in the whole building besides me and my travel companion.  I asked him how many train departures there are per day.  "Seven," he said, after a bit of thought.

That's far better than Arizona's options.  If you live in Phoenix, for example (capital city, biggest city in the state), your train options are these:

-Find a sketchy bus connection or a friend to take you to Maricopa, the train station out in the middle of nowhere, late at night, so you can catch one of the trains that leave at the impressive frequency of 3 times per week each direction (east and west).  Want to go north or south?  Sorry.  Want to go on a certain day?  Sorry.

-Take a bus for over 3 hours to Flagstaff, walk a fair distance to the train station, and if you've timed it right, take the one daily train eastward or the one daily train westward. 

Sigh.  At least our bus options are a little better.   And boy have we got freeways.      

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A review of my story, "Foreign Bodies."

I just got a mention in an article by Karen Burnham in Locus Magazine.  She reviewed recent science fiction and fantasy in Deep Magic, Constellary Tales, Samovar, and Strange Horizons.  That included my sci-fi story, "Foreign Bodies," published in Deep Magic.  It's one of my favorite tales from my Colony series. 

Read here to see what she said about my work:  Focus Magazine:  Karen Burnham Reviews Short Fiction

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

From my recent trip to Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska, mid August:

Sheer fjord walls carved by long-ago glaciers
Swimming-pool-blue water, the color caused by current glaciers depositing silt into water

One of the many waterfalls pouring into the fjord

For a bit of perspective, see that tiny-looking white boat on the bottom left?  It's not so tiny.  It's 143 feet long and has cabins for 54 passengers.

Views over the bow

Just another pretty view

Approaching Sawyer Glacier

Sawyer Glacier, impressive in white and blue.
We got far closer this trip than the first time we came. 

So blue and glassy on the far right side that I wonder if there was recently a big calving event there.  

Harbor seals hanging out on the ice.  Yes, those are all seals.
Here's a close-up:

And mountain goats

Sailing out in the afternoon.  A great day!

For more about Alaska...and how to see Tracy Arm for yourself, check out my books:

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Graveyard of the Pacific by Anthony Dalton

I saw this book in the library, and because I'm planning a sea voyage that will pass that way, I thought I'd read it.  If I were a nervous sailor, that might have been a really stupid decision.  So many shipwrecks and tragedies have occurred in and around the Juan De Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and the Washington coast, and this book tells about them in straightforward--but sometimes chilling--prose.  

The stories aren't dramatized much, but give enough information for your own imagination to take hold.

Though parts of the first chapter were quite dry, and I wished some of the nautical terms had been better explained, it was a very interesting read.  And a testament to the power of the sea.  

I loved the photographs and drawings throughout, but I would really have appreciated a map.  Thank goodness for Google.  

I would read more by Anthony Dalton.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Kayaking by a Glacier

Wouldn't this be fun?
Kayaker on Mendenhall Lake, Juneau

I talked to this couple (there was a second kayak).  They were traveling around with their kayaks in their jeep, camping and going wherever they wanted.  Fantastic adventure. 

For more about Alaska...and how to get there and explore its nature, check out my books:

Monday, August 5, 2019

Snow in June in Arizona

Snow in June is not such a strange thing.  Hiking in Alaska, for example, it's not uncommon at all to find snow on the trail.  Hiking in Arizona is generally a different matter.  In much of the state, June hiking is a hot and downright dangerous affair because of the heat.  No snow allowed!  But this is the trail to Humphrey's Peak, at about 9000 feet of elevation.  And in the middle of June, this is what I found.

I was just training that day, breaking in new shoes and testing my high-elevation comfort level.

I plan to go back before summer ends and do the whole trail.  And I'll certainly post about it.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Free Town Shuttle in Ketchikan

If you're visiting Ketchikan, Alaska, consider yourself lucky.  I love the town.

To make it even better, there's a free town shuttle that runs every day May-September, every 20 minutes.  It'll take you to some popular Ketchikan sites, like:

-The entrance of Creek Street at Thomas Basin (Steadman Street/Thomas Basin is the closest stop, though you'll have to backtrack about 200-300 yards)

-The Totem Heritage Center (also the closest stop to the Deer Mountain trailhead, though the trailhead is still a bit of an uphill walk from there)

-The middle of Creek Street (The Museum stop is near the historical museum by the pedestrian bridge that crosses Ketchikan Creek)

-All the cruise ship docks

The free shuttle is super convenient for those with some mobility issues or those who want to save their energy for other walking.

Here's the Ketchikan bus schedule.  It includes both the free shuttle loop and the regular lines.  

For more on Ketchikan and more budget tips for cruising Alaska, check out my books:

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Veit Springs Trail, near Flagstaff

Aspen on the Veit Springs Trail near Flagstaff, on the way up to Snowbowl 
(park at the small parking lot at one of the nearly hairpin turns)

Wild irises, mid June:

An old building to protect and/or steal the spring from wildlife:

After exploring the Veit Springs area, I took a not-very-well-marked connector trail across the road to the famous Arizona Trail.  

There weren't a lot of views, but they were pretty:

And I met this guy:

More pretty trail, nearing Aspen Corner:

The views opened up:

My ride picked me up at Aspen Corner.

A great little hike.  I really enjoyed the Veit Springs area.  So green and pretty.