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      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
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Volunteering at Puget Sound Goat Rescue–a job well done

Posted by joeabbott on September 23, 2017

WP_20170915_09_16_34_ProEvery year Microsoft encourages its employees to volunteer a workday in the service of a charitable organization; it’s called the Day of Caring. While they encourage charitable contributions and volunteering any time, this is the one day a year you can look your manager in the eye, say, “I’m going to be at a Day of Caring event”, and there are no questions asked or worries about how your work will get done. Your work will wait as the community benefits from your efforts this day.

To assist in the volunteer efforts on the Day of Caring, Microsoft coordinates staffing at organizations across the Puget Sound and even places employees from other companies at charities in need of help. This year I wanted to volunteer my time at the Puget Sound Goat Rescue (PSGR) and while there wasn’t going to be a Microsoft group helping this not-for-profit business, crews from the local Nordstrom and Amazon companies would be onsite. As this is a place Suzy normally volunteers her time, she would also be on-hand.

Barbara runs the PSGR and setup a few projects for me and promised to send along a couple of helpers. I’ve done some work at the PSGR before and this time she requested I set posts around a garden area she’s building out and, if time allowed, widen a gate to allow wider loads to pass through.

Having seen how innocently destructive goats could be, I asked Barbara if the plan on the left would suffice. We only shared mail but I get the feeling she blanched a bit at seeing the heavy-duty structure, coming back with a polite perhaps not quite so industrial. She didn’t use those words, but I was told the area would only support smaller goats and the biggest load on the posts would be the stretched fencing between them. OK … how about this: the plan on the right:

image clip_image002

The second design was more to her liking. The “double post” on one side of the gate would hold the hinges and ensure the gate (she had a pre-existing gate that would fit here) wouldn’t slump. The others just needed a little extra support to hold up to the fence stretching.

So, last week on Friday, rather than head into Redmond, I drove to Maple Valley with Suzy and my truck loaded with saws, shovels, and all manner of other tools, ready for a day of physical labor.

WP_20170915_11_13_00_ProAt the rescue we started moving materials to the garden patch and, on the way, I pass through the gate she wanted widened. Not only did it need widening, but it had a low beam overhead and a board at the bottom that blocked small animals from crawling\burrowing under, but also posed a tripping hazard. As we had a lot of materials to pass through the gate I was looking down as I passed through … and proceeded in cracking my head so hard I saw stars. I decided then and there that I’d prioritize fixing the gate first … or, at a minimum, removing the old gate structure first.

The gate was located between the legs on a raised deck off the back, upper floor of the house and though well-made, a hammer, power screwdriver, and Sawzall made short work of it. Once I’d removed the gate, and pulled off the upper beam and “tripping plate”, we turned our attention to the garden fence. And at that point I met Kellen and Ryan, both Nordstrom employees.

Kellen had put in posts before and had even worked for the DNR with fire support while in college; Ryan was a bit less experienced but able-bodied. Happily, both were very willing to dig in and get to work.

Over the next four hours or so, we labored on digging holes ~30” deep, into which we dumped some gravel, ensured the installed 4×4 posts were vertical, and then filled the rest of the hole with Sakrete, a dry, bagged concrete product.  For the posts to the left of the gate, I cut the horizontal and diagonal sections and, both happily and unexpectedly, they all fit perfectly on the first try. I’ll downplay the fact that I cut the diagonal brace a quarter inch long so I could “sneak up” on the fit because, well, it fit perfectly on the first try. Admitted Kellen was doing the fitting, so I suspect it was “encouraged” into the space. Kellen is a big boy!


After placing the posts that are shown in the above (right) diagram, we realized that the spacing on both sides had too long of a span between posts, and so we ended up digging two more holes and installing another couple of posts, one on each side. By that time, however, we ran out of Sakrete, so we opted out of installing the diagonal braces supporting the posts that would hold the fencing. The posts seemed sturdy and probably didn’t need the extra support. Probably.

So, we went to lunch very happy with how things turned out.

After lunch Barbara let the volunteers spend time with the goats, either the adults or the kids, and all of them LOVED that part. It was fun to watch a bunch of people just coo over the little goatlings and take turns feeding and holding them. I participated a little but spent quite a bit of time packing up, cleaning the materials, and generally treating the PSGR property as I would my own. And then I turned my attention to finishing the gate below the deck.

It was easy enough to add a second support beam to the hinge side and then another on the side the gate would latch on, but as I looked over both projects with Barbara, she asked a couple questions that suggested I wasn’t “done”.

On the garden fence area, we hadn’t hung the gate. We hadn’t because the posts were drying in concrete and you shouldn’t put load on the post until it’s cured. But, having the hinge side supported by two posts sunk 30” into the ground and three other horizontal braces suggested it could probably handle the hanging weight of the gate just fine. So I finished that off.

On the gate under the house, she asked if the free space (the part not covered by the gate itself) would be enclosed. I pointed to the fencing I’d removed and said, “someone could use that to block it off”. Well, the “someone” was obviously me, so I put in a little more time making that look good.

While I was very happy with how everything turned out, as Suzy and I drove home, we stopped to look at the garden fencing posts. They looked good but I had a nagging worry that we hadn’t finished the job: those diagonal supports giving the posts some extra hold-power when the fence was stretched weren’t in place. Would it matter? I wasn’t sure.

By the time we got home I was I was sure, so I sent Barbara an email saying that, if she would get another couple buckets of gravel and three more bags of Sakrete, I’d come back and install the four diagonal posts. She agreed and so, yesterday afternoon at 3PM with my manager’s approval, I returned to PSGR.


We only had two remaining 2×4 boards, so I cut them in half (48” long) and used those for the braces. After halving them I cut a 45° angle in one end and slotted that end into a quarter-inch slot I cut into each of the posts about 23” up from the ground. They’re a bit short and intersect the post well-below the halfway point that I’d like, but with the posts buried deeply they should provide the additional stability and support they’ll need when the fence is stretched against them.


After placing the chamfered end into the post slot, dug about an 8” deep hole for the free end, added gravel, and covered them with Sakrete. With that done, I screwed the support into the post with three screws, added water to the Sakrete, and made sure everything was set properly. It was a job I’m happy to have returned to complete.


And that’s it: a little volunteer time from my company, a bit of good company doing a quality job, and the conscious to follow-up and make sure it was done the way I’d do on my own property. Let’s call it a job well done.


Posted in Garden | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Annual Test Lab Hike–North Olympic Peninsula Beaches

Posted by joeabbott on September 17, 2017

I look forward to one hike all year: our annual Test Lab Hike. It’s an odd name, but a group of four of us then young-ish engineers who worked for Boeing in their Test Labs and started taking strolls in the great outdoors, enjoying what the wilds of Washington state would afford us. Now, twenty-four years later, we still get out for that stroll.Olympic Peninsula

The plan was for a five-day, four-night outing with travel to and from Seattle on the first and last days. While we’d move our camp each of the days, the tides dictated that we’d have to leave relatively early in the day and arrive at our next camp well before noon; a somewhat odd situation. Additionally, the weather was forecast to be mild with one day seeing potential drizzle and another at 20% chance of rain … which is a pretty decent prediction when heading to a rain forest for a camping trip!

In the above map, the four named locations are the places we pitched our tents. While I’ll try to be brief, this is me … and it may get long-ish.

Thursday – drive to the peninsula, camp at the trailhead

No matter how you look at things, getting to the coast is little more than driving from Seattle. We met up around 7AM at Tim’s house, he made us breakfast, we packed the SUV we’d be taking, and started the 5-hour drive. Rush hour traffic and road construction got the best of us, but we likely only lost a half hour or so to that. We headed south to Tacoma and then west, following the northern coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

At Port Angeles we stopped at the Olympic National Park Ranger Station for current weather, tide, and camp site information; they informed us that Seafield Creek and Yellow Banks were “dry”, meaning they had no running water. Bummer. Also, due mainly to raccoon troubles, we were required to carry the provided “bear-proof food canisters”. These are hard plastic caches roughly 18” high and 10” in diameter and can only be considered to hold a lot of food if you ram your food in pretty tightly.

But, after getting some gas and snacks, we continued on to Lake Ozette where we got one of three final camp sites, ate our freeze-dried dinners, pitched our tent, and got in an evening game of Hearts before the mist started falling. By the time we’d made our final bedtime accommodations, the mist was pretty thick. And sometime late that evening, it was unequivocally raining.

Friday – get onto the beach, camp at Seafield Creek

DSCF1186We arose around 6AM and had stricken camp, did our final packing, moved the car, and were on the trail before 8AM. Not bad for a bunch of codgers looking for the loo, needing hot breakfasts, and wondering just how the heck one packed a bear-proof food canisters into an already-full pack. And then it was walking … I chose to not wear my rain slicker, in spite of the heavy mist, because it was warm enough that I’d be sweating furiously if I did. Wet is wet, and rain feels cleaner than sweat.DSCF1187_stitch

The trail from Lake Ozette to the coast has two paths: a northerly route to Cape Alava, and a southerly one to Sand Point. We took the northern leg and marched the three miles at a modest clip, making it to the beach around 9:30AM. By that time, the mist had slackened and we all became silent as the crashing surf aroused our senses. On top of the distinct sounds of the ocean, dozens and dozens of sea lion voices could be heard barking from some far-off rocky isle. The tide was heading out and we had a camp some seven miles to the north; and so we turned our attention that way and continued our march.

DSCF1506DSCF1191Somewhere just before the Ozette River, Tim lost his footing and took a tumble, painfully damaging his side; as if in commiseration, I shortly thereafter took my own slide. I fell forward and unfortunately had my hand pinned between the rock and my trekking pole … getting a cheese-grater greeting by the myriad sharp barnacles. Upon inspection I saw a bloodless wound and attempted to rip off the hanging flesh with my teeth. I had a faint sickening sensation as the tug was substantial and wasn’t sufficient to part the skin from the thumb: that was a deep wound. I cupped my hand to my chest and made my way bank-side on the Ozette in order to shed my pack and bandage my hand. By the time I had a wrap on it, the blood was profuse. I worried a lot about infection as we all crossed the river and took a small break.


Tim rested his side, Ron and I headed upstream into the Ozette River to filter water for camp, hoping low tide and a plentiful current would provide salt-free water. Unfortunately, the water was still brackish and only really good for use as cooking water or with heavily flavored powders. But, we brought what we could with us and, after our short rest, continued marching the two and a half miles north to Seafield Creek.

We setup camp and Tim realized he had forgotten his sandals back at the Ozette River just after the crossing. Without truly hoping we could get them (the tide was now coming in) … and without a lot of worry if we didn’t … we headed south and while we were unable to make it past the final headwall safely (the tide had risen beyond a safe height to pass), returned to camp happy for a chance to stretch our legs without a pack and enjoying good company.DSCF1201_stitch

DSCF1249A short time later Ron showed interest in heading north toward Shi Shi and, game for most any stroll, I joined him much to the same result as my walk with Tim: we got a couple miles in but were ultimately stopped by impassible terrain and so we walked back.

I figure I added roughly 10 miles to my day but enjoyed the beach walk and company. And, I had slept somewhat poorly the prior night and looked forward to fatigue doing what it does best: providing me a deep and excellent night’s sleep.

Our camp was set about 15’ up a bluffy wall, accessible via two trails: one with a hand-line strung down it, and the other a scampery little path that took one over a jumble of driftwood logs. The platforms were generous and Dan opted to setup his own tent a short distance away. In spite of the fact that we carry a 6-man tent on these trips (we all like our space and room for gear), Dan continues to carry his own 2-man tent for the evening’s sleep. He’ll socialize, play cards, and whatnot, but when it’s time for lights-out, he heads to his own little suite.

The clouds had long-since parted and as we settled into dinner (and, later, Hearts), we hoped the “20% chance of rain” that had been forecast for the next day had happened and was over. And, yes, I slept well.

Saturday – head back south, camp at Cape Alava

DSCF1253We awoke to a fairly good rain coming down. It sounded worse from inside the tent than it felt when one was outside, but it was coming down steadily. I was in a cross mood. I’d have rather waited out the rain but we were low on enjoyable water, had a camp site 7-miles to the south that night, and needed to cross the Ozette River at low tide … which would happen at around 10:30AM. To get there on time, we needed to break camp around 8AM. It was 6AM and I wanted to roll over.

But, I got up (grudgingly) and got going.

Breakfast for me is a Costco muffin … these little darlings are around 700 calories and it’s hard to have what is essentially cake for breakfast and still be annoyed. I managed, but only because the rain was continuing to come down. As we cleared our gear, packed our pack, and made the tent ready, I asked Tim if he wanted to put the tent body (his share for this leg), into a bag. He declined, later stating that he thought the rain would break soon, and so when we got to camp (and it was still raining), we had a fairly soaked sleeping quarters.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but not by much.

The trip south was quick, as are most hikes on the beach, as the sand just above the wave-line tends to be firmly packed and gives you a dead flat, cushioned trail each step. Tim’s sandals were where we thought they’d be, the headwalls were passed over without incident, and we soon arrived at Cape Alava … I believe it was about 10:30AM.DSCF1272

I was still grumpy and after we setup the tent, I tossed a small emergency blanket (it’s a tarp with a reflective surface) inside the tent, dumped my stuff on it, and took a nap for a few hours.

Upon waking up, the world was a nicer place. My mood had dissipated, the rain had ceased, and we had a clean supply of water to refill our bottles. I strung a couple of lines between trees and we quickly filled them with wet gear, hoping to catch the last of the westering sun. As with the other days, we ate our separate dinners together and then got in a game of Hearts to finish the day. DSCF1286_stitch

Unfortunately, I celebrated the clean water a bit more than I should have, and had to arise a couple of times in the evening to relieve myself. Upon exiting the tent around 3AM, I started what I imagine was a large crane. Ron later reported hearing it and he chuckled a bit … I absolutely was not chuckling. That bird has a terrifying scream and to hear it in the dark when one scarcely has his senses … well, it certainly had my attention.

DSCF1322Sunday – continue south, camp at Yellow Banks

Sunday was the sort of day one comes to the beach to enjoy; it was marvelous. As Ron would say: blue skies, sunshine. And it had both of those in spades.

The march to camp would be about 7 miles this day, following the beach from Cape Alava, past Sandy Point, and on around a few headwalls to Yellow Banks. We bumped into a few people but far fewer than you would think you’d see given the phenomenal sights and beautiful crashing surf.DSCF1319

DSCF1344While the seaweed beds were thickly piled on these beaches, and the sand fleas particularly plentiful, the rhythmic crash of waves, the lapping water, and that gently yielding, dead flat “trail” to hike on made the miles zip by. Upon several beaches we crossed rich troves of rocks of a myriad color and patterns. They were so beautiful, upon the return trip, I filled one of my water bottles full of agates, jasper, jet black and pure white stones. A wonder of beauty.

But, as with the other days, our day started early to accommodate the tides and before noon we arrived at the eponymous Yellow Banks. Vegetation has overgrown much of the bluff but it was a very fine sight and we were excited to be there as the tide rose and we were the only ones on the beach. While it wouldn’t hold, we had the entire expanse to ourselves for the afternoon.

DSCF1367After looking over most of the sites, we returned to the camp at the head of the beach and called that home. The camp was pretty cool: another 15’ climb up a bluffy face, but at the top were two balconies made from various drift woods (one balcony complete with a hammock!), and room for our tent amongst the trees to the rear. If we could have spent another night, that would have been the place.

But, rather than setup shop right away, we all spread out our gear in the sun and set it to drying. And while it was doing that, Ron found a few floats lost from various ships and set us all onto a game of bocce ball. In this game, the leader (typically the person who won the last round) would toss a smaller float out several yards; thereafter, all participants would take turns tossing their floats after it. The person closest to the small float won a point … unless his toss ended up touching the small float, and then he would get two points. No one in our games would ever win the two points.DSCF1412

It was a very fun event and I’m pretty happy Ron suggested it and found the floats\bocce balls. At one time I gave my ball toss a bit too much arc and the float cracked upon landing. After a few more tosses it broke in two. No problems, says Ron … and off he ran past the high tide mark and returned a short time later with another whole float. “They’re all over here,” he reported. Amazing.

After dinner we returned to the beach for another game and then our nightly ritual of Hearts. As we played, several other groups entered the beach, taking advantage of the lowering tide. No matters … we had the best camp on the beach.DSCF1439_stitch

DSCF1373Monday – pack up and head home

While our day was driven by the tide, we had great grips to go, needing to drive the many hours back to Seattle this day. And again, arise, eat breakfast, pull down the tent, and pack up. Our practiced routine was made efficient by the now, our fifth packing this trip, and the dry weather helped. I’d taken a small “cave” (a man-made opening in the wall that allowed one to avoid crossing on seaweed-slickened rocks) on the way into the Banks and did so again on the way out, and then trudged north across the wonderfully pebbled beaches to the south part of Sand Point.

Here we stopped, snapped a few final shots, enjoyed a light lunch of whatever we each had left, and then marched along the boardwalk to Lake Ozette. The three miles went quickly and, as usual, I was glad to see the car and enjoy the dry, clean clothing. This was the end of our twenty-fourth Test Lab Hike, and it was a beauty.

Thanks for reading all this. As usual, it got long and reminiscing as I typed this made it longer. May your trails be under blue skies and full of sunshine.

Posted in Hiking | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

21 hours with Suzy–or, heading back to the beach

Posted by joeabbott on September 17, 2017

DSCF1511Last weekend I enjoyed my annual outing with some old friends and on a long hike; during that hike we visited the Olympic Nation Park on a beach hike (more on that later). On the way home, I came across a beach with so many unique and lovely stones, I gathered a Nalgene bottle full of them to show to Suzy.

As we looked over them at home, I asked if she would like to see the beach; she was game and so we had a date.DSCF1551

This part of the Olympic National Park is some 5-hours distant accessed via narrow, 2-lane highways; and then the hike to the coast is a short 3-mile affair, but to get to Yellow Banks (where I found the neat rocks), you need to put in another 2-3 miles of hiking. Unwinding that stack so you can sleep in your own bed that night means a 10-12 mile hike on top of 10 hours of driving: a tall but not insurmountable order.

And so we arose early on a Saturday, saw to our morning breakfasts, packed the car with the prepared foods and gear, and were off around 6:30AM. With only a brief stop in Port Angeles at the Ranger Station to confirm our tide information, we made it to the trailhead by 11:30AM and were marching to the beach shortly thereafter, hitting the sand just before 1PM.

DSCF15363DSCF1570From there we wandered a bit more lazily toward Yellow Banks, stopping for our sandwich lunch and pointing out various seamounts, detritus washed up on the shore, or poking at a pebble here and there. Once we hit Yellow Banks, we turned our attention to the stones on the beach and started the long, slow march north again, all the while picking up anything that looked interesting.

DSCF1583At about 4:30PM we assessed our situation: we had about 60” of rock … that’s over four stone in stone … and a neat piece of driftwood that caught our eyes. Additionally, the sun would start setting around 7:30PM and we had about 5 miles yet to hike. Given our pace of roughly 2 miles per hour, understanding we were both quite tired, and we were lugging a lot of weight, we immediately started for the car.

Like clockwork, we hit the trailhead about 7PM and had time to tidy up, pop our stuff into the car, and get a few miles under the tires before the sun set.

The ride home was uneventful but long. First, we headed back to Port Angeles and had a fast food dinner in our car. While we typically aren’t eating from a bag, it was nice to have  hot meal without waiting, not worry about feeling grubby, and to just be able to sit without moving for a bit. It wasn’t just nice, it was needed.

However, after asking our GPS to take us home, we found it had sent us to ferry heading back toward Seattle! By the time we got there, the last boat had sailed and so we were out of luck. We then asked us to get us home and I explicitly stated to not use that ferry … but, it sent us to another terminal! Yikes! We didn’t realize it at that time but when we did realize it, we were within 6-miles of the terminal so we continued on. Fortunately for us, the last boat was a bit late and so we got a short ride into the city. I mentioned to Suzy that I may have dozed just a bit as we sat in our car for the ride over, and she informed me that, yes, I was snoring nearly the whole trip! I guess I needed a little shut eye!

Once back in Seattle we drove a half hour to our home, left the car a mess to clean up the next day, showered, and hit the sheets. And putting my head down has seldom felt as good.

We’re not sure what we’ll do with all the rocks, they’re awfully pretty but best seen all together. We’re sure some project will present itself and, when it does, we’ll tackle it with the same energy we showed in getting them.


Thanks for reading.

Posted in Home projects, Travel | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Lotta planning, little hike

Posted by joeabbott on September 4, 2017

2017-08-18_100846Over the course of the summer I’ve been itching to hike from Steven’s Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. The original plan was to use the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) the entire way but when we calculated the time and distance for some old bones like ours to make the trip, we agreed to use the Trail 1060 cut-off, allowing us to still hike Pass to Pass, but cut off about 8.5 miles from the route … exchanging that for about 2000’ of elevation gain!

The image to the right shows a couple of early trail options we considered … one for Trail 1061 cut off a bit less distance but commensurately started us 1000’ higher. Ultimately we chose Trail 1060, the Surprise Lake trail and were happy for the savings in distance, which we deemed to be our worst enemy.

The “we” in the prior sentence were two of my hiking buddies from the summer; the three of us are desk jockeys and going five-days of 12-15 mile days would be a challenge. We convinced ourselves of the lie that elevation would be challenging, but at a slow pace we could make it happen without too much problem. I say “lie” because the elevation was going to hurt a bunch, but it comes with hiking this part of the PCT so we would just have to find a way.

In preparation for the trip we reviewed books, web resources, and chatted with friends and coworkers who’d been on this part of the trail. We watched the weather, picked up gear that would be lightweight, and mentally (and physically) prepared for the outing. While more time would always be helpful, I felt ready.

While I note we prepared lightweight packs, we clearly don’t know how to do it very well. In spite of all of us prepping our 5-day packs (with emergency sixth day rations) independently, we all showed up at the trailhead with roughly the same weight packs: about 40#. Which is a startlingly heavy pack to carry for 70 miles. I carried a few items I wouldn’t consider “required” but would very much miss over 5 days without … including reading materials and some down\fleece gear that would be sorely wanted if the weather turned for the worse.

In all, my gear weight was just over half the overall weight and included the items in the following list.

imageKnowing what I do now about the weather and the trail conditions, I could have saved probably 5# in weight or more … I would have left home glasses and reading, fleece and my puffy jacket, tarp and knife. It would feel foolish to start paring back my first aid kit more but I could. Same with leaving home the map … but it was less for finding our way and more for knowing what it was that was around us. Admittedly, it was duplicative of the GPS. Still, weather in the Pacific Northwest turns quickly so having the right emergency gear is both smart and will keep you alive.

Other “luxuries” include my “camp cotton”, which is an extra shirt and briefs I only wear in camp. It’s nice to get out of the sweaty clothing and for ten ounces, I’m OK with bringing it. Still, I acknowledge it as a luxury. Same with my second set of clothing … while I’d accepted I’d be stinky (and my “vital pack” included a packet of scent-free wet wipes for toweling off at the end of day), I could have gone uber-stinky and saved about a pound and a quarter by omitting the extra shirt, Lycra shorts, and liner\outer socks. But I can’t recall ever going 5 days without bathing, much less wearing the same clothing … and especially with as much sweating as we’d be doing. Calling this a luxury feels odd.

Finally, there are things like “shoes”, which were actually skelly\neoprene toe-shoes for fording rivers that were less luxuries than “smart gear”. Yes, I could ford barefooted, but it seems stupid given my tender little feets. And so, this is my list. While I was happy that it was about 20#, that was just the half of it.

The other half was the backpack itself (a bit over 3#), food (about 14#), water (about 4#) and group gear … not to mention the stray carabiner attached to the outside and whatnot. I’ve had friends comment surprisingly at my food weight, but at roughly 2.5# per day, I didn’t feel I was going overboard. I could start to shave weight here and, in future efforts might, but this was not a place I wanted to start with saving on the load. Additionally, each day I’d be losing a couple pounds and reasoned that by the start of the last day, my pack would be over 10# lighter! I liked the sound of that!

As I noted in the title, we’d put a lotta planning into this trip. I’d come home from work, busy myself at the computer to continue research, run to the garage where I was prepping gear to weigh out options, and swing into REI with Suzy after errands to consider one or two other options for gear. I eventually bought myself the lighter sleeping bag noted in the weights above (it saved about 2# in weight in my pack and was only about $70 … still a lot of money, but not bad for a sleeping bag), and some carbon-fiber poles. I’m embarrassed at the cost of those so I won’t share that here, but they saved about the same sort of weight as the sleeping bag … and considering I’d be carrying that weight, I called it an easy decision.

DSCF1129And then the trip itself … spoilers: we turned back after the first day, about 14 miles in.

As we headed out of the car, my pack was biting into the top of my butt. Not just an annoyance, but a deeply aching, brutal pressure that threatened to immobilize me by the end of the first day. It was mean. I’m not sure what adjustment I made to get it sorted out, but I was finding myself reaching back to lift and support the pack with my hands at some points. It was really painful and so, I was surprised to find that, at some point, it just worked itself out and I was moving a lot more comfortably, albeit slowly.

DSCF1180One of my friends, however, was just struggling from the get-go. At every stop we’d wait longer and longer for him to catch up, eventually waiting about 15 minutes by the time we hit the 4.5 mile mark, Surprise Lake. While we’d done over 2000’ of elevation gain, he showed up with shaking legs and a pained expression; it was clear he was hurting. We found a place to sit by the lake and after about 10 minutes he confided that his legs were shot, he’d vomited on the way in, and he just didn’t see a way for him to make it without jeopardizing the outing. He was turning back.

While we cajoled and talked about options and generally stalled another half hour, it was clear something wasn’t right when he went to the water’s edge to pump some water and, upon scampering the 8’ up to the rocks we were sitting on, showed his legs were quivering and he’d lost his breath. He was mad, frustrated, and contrite … shaking his head and asking aloud what could be going on. I’ve felt like he has in the past, and I’m not sure what causes it, but I hoped he’d struggle on to camp, rest it up, and have a better day two. He, however, was done.

So, I gave him my bivy so he could sleep out alone, and I took his place in the tent and we parted. It was hard but he felt it was the right call.

My other friend and I continued to the end of the day, making it to the camp we’d targeted and were happy with the distance we made. That said, upon arriving he noted that his foot was taking on an aching that suggested he had a serious problem and he wasn’t sure he should continue.

Earlier in the summer he was in a walking cast and felt he’d made a full recovery, but upon getting up the next morning, he didn’t believe going on was the right call. I didn’t cajole this time, as a serious physical problem isn’t something you should just ignore, and as we left camp, he headed back toward the trailhead we’d left from the day before.

It was an early and disappointing end to a long-planned outing, but it was the right call. Had I not handed off my solo-bivy , I wonder if I’d have continued south. I might, but I also think it could have caused my partner to continue on, and later doctors’ reports suggest turning back was ultimately the right call. The one thing that gets me through is a oft-repeated phrase that has always been true: there’ll be another time, another year.

Thanks for looking in and here’s hoping your outings have been more successful.

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I made a thing

Posted by joeabbott on August 22, 2017

I love building stuff … taking wood, even fence slats and other scrap wood like I did this time, and creating something useful. It’s a kick. Here’s my latest build project.

Lumber and list

I bought fencing slats from our local big box store. Spent an extra few minutes going through the pile and carefully selecting the pieces that minimized knots and other defects. Of course I carefully stacked the pieces I left behind. I needed enough lumber to complete the cut list that I wrote out by hand and stuck nearby for reference.


The parts

And here’s the pile of pieces that, when assembled correctly, will be a “thing”. Can you guess what it might be yet?


Finish-cutting the parts

By virtue of the names “rail” and “panel”, those familiar with woodworking should pick up on my building something with a floating panel assembly. These next two pictures show me finishing up the parts in preparation for assembly. The picture on the left shows the diagrams I was using for creating the legs and rails … the parts scattered about are the rails in rough shape … lots of work to complete them! The right shows a shoulder plane and some rails … I’m working on the tenons.



My project had four legs with rails and panels between pairs of legs, making a box. I nested the rails inside the legs using mortise and tenon joints … should last as long as the wood does. Here I am chopping out the mortises by hand … two mortises on two different sides of each leg, making for sixteen mortises. That’s a lotta chopping!


Dry fit

Once I was done with the finish-cutting and chopping, it was time to dry fit. To ensure that final assembly would mate the same mortises and tenons, I labeled all the parts … upper joints with letters, lower joints with numbers.


After getting a comfortable fit on the mortises and tenons, I made sure my panels would float in the grooves that I’d created in the rails. More than once I had to use a shoulder plane to get the right fit but, with the right tools, it’s a pretty straight forward project.


Assembly time!

WP_20170806_16_51_30_ProAnd here it goes together!



Final part

I was building a planter for Suzy to use next to the bench\trellis project I made a month or two back. This one came out pretty good, however, we planned on using a plastic bucket inside to hold the actual plant. After putting in a bottom, you could see the white plastic pretty easily and it detracted from the overall look, so I made a “collar” … just a 1×4 top that would hide the plastic. I had to cut out the corners to fit around the upper parts of the legs and I held the pieces together using a spline. Actually, it was just a #0 biscuit, but it worked as a spline. I wanted to add a reinforcing plate to the bottom of the collar parts to provide some additional hold-together power, but for an assembly that was just going to sit securely on the top, it felt pretty solid without the reinforcing gusset … so that never was added.


Final product

And here it is … I’m pretty happy with it and will likely build additional ones for other places in the yard. It’s a good design that my buddy Tim gave me the plans for, so I have him to thank for that.

There are a few flaws in it and it’s not finished, but most of the wooden projects in our yard don’t have stain, so it’ll fit in with a season or so of weathering.



Thanks for dropping by!

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River of Doubt

Posted by joeabbott on August 19, 2017

Image result for river of doubtOn some occasions I find a good book through serendipity … a cover catches my eye, the jacket captures an intriguing element of the story, or even the title grabs at my imagination … other times the book is thrust into my hands. River of Doubt, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey might fall into all three of the above serendipitous examples but it was an old college friend who introduced me to my latest read.

Upon a visit to our home, she wandered into what we call “the library” or “reading room”: it’s an extra bedroom in which we installed six 7’x3’ shelving units that contain old college texts, some knickknacks, and, yes, books. Most of them, however, are from our younger years: the under-appreciated Roger Zelazny, JRR Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Nevada Barr, and loads of classics. As she looked over the spines, she asked incredulously if we didn’t read anything with a bit more of an adult flavor. I laughingly showed her our bedroom collection … the other shelves in our home stuffed with the books we keep at hand and have read recently. Suzy’s books influenced by plants, animal husbandry, and biographies; mine by historical science, construction, and wilderness adventure. She nodded without enthusiasm, I suspect not spotting books she’d read, and asked if I’d about a few other titles (River of Doubt and Lab Girl were in that list) and that was it.

But, I put River of Doubt on my Amazon wish list and so it showed up at some gifting event. And what a gift … you should put this book on your list or, better yet, just go out and get a copy to enjoy now.

River of Doubt covers roughly half a year of Theodore Roosevelt’s life: shortly after his defeat in the 1912 election, he craved escape, an adventure, and the idea of exploring an Amazonian river seemed just the ticket. Over about 350 pages, Candice Millard shares the story of just how dear that ticket cost.

Millard pulls together so many details, from the planning of the trip, to the political environment in South America (who was being honored by an ex-US President who did little on their behalf but much for US’s interest in their countries), to the Indian populations living in the Amazon, that is seems impossible for her to have pulled these details together 100 years after the fact. The veracity of her story is attested to by nearly 50-pages of Notes, Select Bibliography, and Acknowledgements and that this story has held up to be a national bestseller. It’s a helluva page turner.

While the story deals with tedium of an exploration excursion … and many details of these events can be tedious … she remains above the boring bits and brings to life the intriguing aspects. For instance, the trip into the Amazonian jungles was largely planned by a failed polar explorer, and was initiated by a priest who expected … and was surprised his request was denied … to be carried about the Amazon jungle by the native peoples on a palanquin. She details the boats that had been sent to South America and how inappropriate they were to transport to the middle of the Amazonian jungle (for which they were discarded) and how the boats they did use (native dugouts) were equally inappropriate for the exploration of a wild and unknown river. Even the politics of camp and how the US contingent got along with the Brazilians in the expedition, or how the elite officers and far more numerous crew got along once starvation and disease starting taking toll on them. Gripping stuff, all of it.

But a lot is said by the telling, as much as by what was told about. Millard scarcely lets you finish a chapter without a near-cliffhanger-like ending sentence. On the chapter where Roosevelt is gravely injured and largely a burden on the expedition, it ends:

Then, without a trace of self-pity or fear, Roosevelt informed his friend and his son of the conclusions he had reached. “Boys, I realize that some of us are not going to finish this journey. Cherrie, I want you and Kermit to go on. You can get out. I will stop here.”

And while many endings are sensationalistic, others of a more optimistic nature can pull you into the next chapter just the same. As I found late in the book, with rations running exceptionally low and Roosevelt incapacitated by fever and disease:

This was the first mark of the outside world that the men had seen since they had launched their dugouts on the River of Doubt a month and a half earlier. It was a sign of hope – a sign that salvation lay within reach.

You can’t tell me, even with the bus stop coming in the next minute or so, you’re not going to start that next chapter!

I’m a simple reader and a less capable reviewer but I found the book compelling, enjoyable, and I strongly recommend you read it when you’re able. Whether you like historical biographies and are interested in Roosevelt and his family (you’ll get that), if you like adventure tales and are curious how an ex-US President would find himself literally discovering for the outside world a 500-mile river in the Amazon basin (this is admittedly a bit more sensational than factual), or are intrigued by the history (on geological scale) of the Amazon and how the animals have evolved and adapted … heck, even if you are curious what a polar explorer would pack for a jungle expedition (spoiler: lots of condiments … he expected them to hunt most of the food they ate) … you’ll get it in this book!!

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Experimentation is the key

Posted by joeabbott on August 13, 2017

DSCF1114While I’ve complained about my SPOT device the past few weeks, I’ve also continued taking it on every hike; learning what works and what doesn’t. This past weekend, I learned in explicit terms what doesn’t work. My most recent attempt was to put the SPOT on a lanyard and wear it around my neck. Yup, it bounced against my sternum as I gasped breaths, the cord chafed at my neck in the heat and sweat of the day (although, there wasn’t that much heat), and it was a general nuisance, but to get better performance from my SPOT, I’d give anything a try.

imageAnd it failed. Big time.

Aspiring to the best qualities of Thomas Edison, I know what doesn’t work. And, I’ll keep trying to figure out what does, but to the left is my 17 mile hiking profile from my trip along Rattlesnake Ridge and back from Snoqualmie Point.

While you can’t see it from the picture, there are actually four points showing and, yes, the checkmark means those are the places I checked in. And, yes again, I did have the Track setting enabled. Which means that I didn’t capture a single location from the tracking software. Not a single one.

The way across the ridge is pretty straightforward on good trails with, admittedly, a bit of tree cover. However, across the entire back of the mountain we were on gravel roads walking through clear cuts. Not only weren’t we under trees, there were no trees!

And yet it’s very sad that the only times I was able to get a signal through was when we’d stop, position the SPOT to lay back down on the ground (face up to the sky) and let it sit like that for 10 minutes or so.

DSCF1019The antenna in the SPOT is located in the front, so that’s the desired positioning of it to give it the best chance at sending and receiving signals, but I was very surprised that not a single event was captured while worn as a necklace. Maybe it was the positional aspect or maybe the bouncing about, but it didn’t register a single location when worn as a necklace.

As I continue to find out what doesn’t work with this device, my next effort will be to find a way to position it on the top of my pack facing the sky. That should be my last, best chance to get this thing working reliably. And, I suppose, find hikes that are less tree-covered.

Here are a few pics from the trail:


The trail is just over 10 miles from Snoqualmie Point to Rattlesnake Lake; we planned to stop at Rattlesnake Ledge and head back the way we came … making it about an 18 mile day. Heath’s GPS said we made it just under 17 miles as we stopped at an upper ledge\viewpoint and didn’t head to the Ledge proper. That was fine by me. As you can see in the final picture, the trail was under maintenance in one section so it was detoured to the back of the mountain … right through a clear cut. Not the sort of scenery you want when making a little hike.

We had full trail packs on as we are training for a stint along the Pacific Crest Trail, planning to travel roughly 75 miles from Steven’s Pass to Snoqualmie Pass. We’ll average 15 miles days and this was our trek to see how we felt after a single day with 35# packs. My feet were killing me! The trip will be a real test of endurance, strength and pain avoidance. Anyone out there interested in a similar challenge: don’t wait until you’re over 50 year old (like I am) before trying this!! It may not be “fun” but it will be rewarding.

Well, thanks for dropping in; may your trails be maintenance free and, if they aren’t, I hope you can avoid the clear cuts.

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More Seattle adventures

Posted by joeabbott on August 2, 2017

Seems we enjoy a bit of glassblowing here in Seattle … and when you can share that with traveling family and friends: all the better!! Here’s a picture that has my mother flashing a “thumbs up” … proof positive we had a fantastic time!


In the pic: Natalie, Suzy, me, mom, Ashley and Jay. Karen was taking the picture and she did a great job!

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And another

Posted by joeabbott on August 2, 2017

In addition to enjoying Seattle Center, we passed through Pike Place Market! Here’s a shot of my brother Jay, mother, me, and nieces Natalie and Ashley. Oh yea … and Rachel the pig!


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Here’s a cute picture

Posted by joeabbott on August 2, 2017

A couple weeks back my mother along with my brother and his family came out for a visit. We had a grand time and among the many places we visited was the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exposition at the Seattle Center. It was a beautiful day amid beautiful works of art … with some beautiful people! Here’s a shot of my mother, niece Natalie, sister-in-law Karen, and niece Ashley. It’s hard to imagine a better group of folks to enjoy the afternoon with.


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