Saturday, December 21, 2019

My Plain Jane by Hand, Ashton, and Meadows

Want a fun supernatural literary mash-up?  Then try My Plain Jane.

It's sort of the story of Jane Eyre...but mostly not.  Charlotte Bronte herself is a character (my favorite one, I think).  It's fun to watch her weave reality into fiction and vice versa.  


I enjoyed most of the twists on the well-known characters, both literary and real.  

Sadly...I wasn't a huge fan of Jane's character revision.  I've read the real Jane Eyre two or three times and seen most of the movie versions more than once.  I feel almost like Jane's my friend.  I like her and respect her.  But in My Plain Jane she seemed rather passive and boy-crazy and sometimes almost stupid.  But...that's just my view of it.  

These same authors (its three of them, and how they managed such a cohesive novel is really quite impressive) also wrote My Lady Jane about Lady Jane Grey.  That book sparkled with humor.  I was really impressed by how it never started taking itself too seriously, which is what most humorous fantasy/paranormal/historical fantasy books end up doing.  My Plain Jane didn't quite match this standard, but it was still funny and a pleasant, light read.  

I recommend them both.

And the actual Jane Eyre:


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Gavan Hill Trail, Sitka

This summer in Sitka, Alaska, I'd planned to take the Indian River trail, but the info people told me there were too many bears at the moment to make it prudent to hike alone...without bear spray.  So I disappointedly decided to take the Gavan Hill Trail instead.  What a happy turn of events!  I LOVED it. 

Getting to the beginning of the actual trail was flattish and pretty (and rainy):

Then started the stairs, so humbly:

Then a little less humbly:

Then a few not-stairs:

Then some boardwalk stairs: 

And some ropes to help you:

And finally, the reward (well, in addition to the rewards of the climb itself and the beautiful greenery): 

It would have been even more stunning on a blue-sky day, but I liked the misty effect too, and my pictures don't really do it justice. 

I was going to be late meeting my party back in town, so I unfortunately couldn't go further, but next time I would love to. 

On the way back down, I tried counting stairs (and stair-like things, and stone steps).  I think I got to about 1800.  Fantastic day! 

Highly recommended trail. But...if you don't like stairs, you might not like it. 

If you go:

-Stairs.  Lots and lots of stairs.
-If you want good views, you don't really get them until you climb above the trees.  So, commit. 
-I recommend more than three hours. 
-You can access the trail via the Sitka Cross Trail and I walked with no problem right from downtown.  It's sometimes called the Harbor Mountain Trail, though if you go that far, you'll need even more time. 

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

Monday, December 9, 2019

Gastineau Peak Hike, Juneau, Alaska

As many times as I've been to Juneau, Alaska, I've never taken the Mt Roberts tram.  It seems rather expensive for what you get ($33 in 2019).  This year in August, however, my mom and I decided we'd splurge.

We took the tram up to the nature center and explored around there a bit.  Here's something to help you visualize the size of a brown bear:

Then we took the Alpine Loop (which, according to my mom, wasn't as easy as I'd promised).  She made it all the way to the cross, however.  Look at those views!

Then we parted ways and I headed uphill toward Gastineau Peak (which comes before the summit of Mt. Roberts).

More nice views:

Salmonberry snack:

Blueberry snack:

Mountain goat:

Beautiful grouse:

Black bear!!! 
He poked around for a long time in those patches of snow.  He even rolled around like a cat.  So cute (from a distance). 

Beautiful valley:

(one of several, and this one came so close I hardly even had to zoom for this picture)

What a fantastic hike!  I'm not sure if I've ever seen more varied and spectacular wildlife on a single hike.  Plus great views, wild berries...and very few people. What a great day.

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

Saturday, November 23, 2019

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 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.'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: