Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Hello and welcome to my Blog!

I have established this as a means to keep Family and Friends informed about what the heck I am thinking/doing these days!
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Monday, November 17, 2014


 I  have always been partial to Nordic dog breeds and in particular, Siberian Huskies.  I find them to be spirited, energetic and very fond of people.  My love for them started when i was about 8 years old.

At that time, I had just read "Call of The Wild" and "White Fang", by the author Jack London.  I immediately fell in love with the idea of adventures in Alaska and the Klondike and in particular, the strong, determined and loving sled dogs that were the main characters in these stories.

Since that time, I have had the pleasure of enjoying two wonderful Siberian Huskies.  The first, a dog named right out of "The Call of The Wild"...Teek.  He was a strong-willed, close companion of mine some 20 plus years ago, and was part of a 6 dog sled team in Germany.  The second Siberian was a sweet and loving dog named Luna.

Almost twelve years ago, my wife and I went searching for a pet for my daughters 8th birthday.  We came across a female Siberian Husky pup that had been returned to the breeders because the owner found the pup too "challenging" and "difficult". (This is a VERY willful and spirited breed!)  We hung out for a bit, as it was a nice summer day and we played with the cute little puppy for a bit.  We were able to meet the Mom and Dad dogs as well.  The male was a very large framed, strong and majestic looking Siberian...outside of the standards for a Siberian Husky, but simply beautiful.  The female was smaller, more slender and had a gentleness to her expressions.  (We would find out later that Luna would take after her Father in stature and her mother in demeanor)

We scooped up the little puppy after explaining to the Breeders that we understood the extra challenges that a Siberian Husky would present and that we would give her a safe and loving home.  We headed home with the newest member of our family and as i recall, Sandi was quite skeptical of the idea of a new dog.  Me?  I was certain that this new puppy would be a blessing to our family.

We presented the puppy (Later named Luna) to our daughter, who immediately took to her new, little friend.


It was all very exciting until later that night when Luna, likely still missing her Momma, began to cry and howl.  This was pretty normal behavior for a new puppy, sooooooo I grabbed a ticking clock and a small blanket and hung out in the laundry room next to little Luna until she fell asleep.  This went on for a few weeks until she got cozy with her new home and surroundings.  Sometimes, as i would be quietly sneaking out of the laundry room...she would catch me!!...and back I went...until she fell asleep again...usually on my leg making it even harder for me to escape to my own bed!!

We enjoyed Luna for years...her begging for food, and her demand to be walked at about 5 pm nightly characterized by her half growling and half howling.  In short, she was an ever present part of our family and daily life.  Even Sandi, who was constantly at war with Luna over the trampling of the plants and flowers in her large garden, (Luna apparently thought it was HER garden!) came to enjoy the positive and loving effect that Luna brought to our family.

When Luna was about 6-7 years old and going through one of her "heat cycles", she found a way out of our heavily fortified back yard. (Another Siberian trait...escape artist)  I found out while at work and was immediately alarmed as Siberian's like to wander and run...they are NOT prone to returning home.  I was unsure we would get her back.

I went about putting up large, poster board signs throughout the neighborhood and some days later, at the suggestion of a friend, I placed a Craigslist ad.

                                              The Craigslist Photo                                                 

About ten days and a ton of my daughter's tears later, I received a phone call from a lady in Federal Way.  She said that she had responded to a Craigslist ad several days earlier that described a "Found", black and white Siberian Husky.  She told me that she had recently lost her Male, black and white Siberian and thought perhaps her dog had made it the 20 plus miles to Tacoma.  (Which would not surprise me!)

She said that she responded to the ad, and after hearing the description of the "Found" Siberian, she drove to the woman's house in Tacoma to see if it was her dog.  She said that while the dog looked very much like hers, she discovered it was a female, and not a male dog.  She told me that she was told by the woman that no one else had replied to the "Found" ad and that it had been several days.  She said that the woman told her that if she wanted the dog, that she could take it, as she only kept it to hopefully find the owner.

The lady from Federal Way told me that she took the Siberian and drove back to Federal Way, and decided on the drive home to name this "Found" dog, Luna! (Yes really!)

She told me that the very next day, she received a call from the woman in Tacoma, who told her that she had located the owner of the dog, and asked her to return the dog to her.  She said that she then drove back to Tacoma and dropped the dog off, so it could be reunited with its owner.

Now, she had told me this rather long story with some concern, as she told me that she had seen the ad I placed, as well as the photo I posted and she immediately recognized the dog as Luna.  She asked if I had been contacted by the woman in Tacoma and I told her I had not.  She gave me the address to the woman' residence, as she had kept it on her GPS from the day prior.  Turns out that the address was about 4 miles from our house.  I thanked the nice lady and Sandi and I drove to the woman's house.

The short story is...we were able to get our Luna back.  Apparently the woman in Tacoma had seen our ad, which included a 200.00 dollar reward, and had gotten Luna returned so that she could collect the reward. (We offered it to the lady that had called from Federal Way, but she declined)

We simply could not believe that after two weeks, we had found our dog!  It was a happy homecoming and my daughter was elated.  Other than a few scratches and some torn nails from what looked like a fight with another dog, Luna looked just fine.  Me?...I was out tearing down the 20 large poster board "Lost Dog" signs!

A few weeks later, I commented that Luna looked a bit "chunky".  Sandi thought it was just her winter coat coming in.  A few weeks later we took our chunkier dog to the Vet, who examined her...gave her an x-ray and then smiled and told us that Luna was pregnant with at least 6 puppies!

Are you kidding me!??! 

We set about preparing a "Den" for Luna, (Closet under the stairs) and several weeks later...we welcomed 7 brand new puppies into the world!:)  Luna needed no assistance and after a couple hours of labor, she was exhausted....but feeding and caring for her babies and gently licking them clean.


I watched Sandi grow much closer to Luna during this time.  She developed a strong bond with Luna the way only another Mom could....and she fell in love with every single one of the puppies....we all did.

8 weeks later, we had found homes for all of the puppies and after a few more weeks, Luna had re-adjusted to her human family...though it was painfully obvious that she missed her babies.

We enjoyed Luna for the next four years...her begging, her nightly walks, her sleeping next to my daughters bed each night, and her sweet and gentle kisses when we knelt down to pet her.  Luna even enjoyed a brief friendship with our Grandson, Landon...who was not afraid to pet her and offer his 2 year old face to be licked! (As well as sharing any and all of his snacks with her)  Luna was also part of Veronica's Graduation pictures as well as her Graduation Announcement.


We recently noticed Luna slowing way down on her nightly walks...to the point of her laying down.  She would then get up and try her best to finish the walk, but I could tell she was very very tired...very out of character for a Siberian.  I knew something was wrong.

After a few visits to the Vet and a few tests...I realized that our 11 year old friend was dying.   She was very ill and so very tired.  It weighed heavy on my heart.  I knew that we would have to let her go and I wished I didn't have to make the decision.

We spent the last few days just being with Luna...talking to her, petting her...and just loving her.

We went as a family to take our sweet Luna to the Vet for the last time.

Veronica looked up at me with tears streaming down her face...barely able to speak...and said, "I'm losing my best friend".  Each of us put a hand on our beautiful and cherished companion, petting her.  It was very, very difficult to watch my daughters heart break as she lovingly held Luna in her arms......until she passed.

As anyone who has lost a cherished pet knows...these are special creatures.  They are here for a short time....an abbreviated life....but that short time is no less fulfilling and no less enjoyable.  We will miss Luna...each in our own way and we will treasure our time with her...and our memories of her.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

One Hit Wonder: Luka

Recently, while loading a few songs into my Mp3 Player, I came across some older Mp3's that I had saved to a disc some years ago. I recognized most of the songs as “one hit wonders” that I had downloaded from God knows where!

Being that I am more of a “Song” guy, than a “Band” guy, I find myself having collected quite a few stand alone songs, that were popular briefly, then died as a result of the band or singer simply not producing any more “hits”! I threw a few of these songs on my Mp3 Player and had a listen during a recent workout. Besides bringing back some memories and transporting me back to a different time and place, they still sounded good to me!

There are certain “attributes” in songs that generally reel me in: First, if there are violins playing a supporting role and providing a backdrop or significant accompaniment to the song, well, I like that. It is a very common thread to many of the songs I like. Second, if there are good lyrics, that tell a story by way of a Ballad, again, I am drawn to it. Third, for some reason...I find it interesting or unique when the annunciation of a word or words is either done with an accent, or an unusual tone or even an unorthodox slang or slant. Not the whole song mind you, but just the subtlety of a small part of the song or a word or two. This last one is hard to explain, but easy to hear in some of the songs I like.

I have decided to do a “One Hit Wonder Of The Week” kind of thing and will be posting either a YouTube viewable version, or an Mp3 version of one song each week, from my “Play list” so to speak!

Fist up will be a song that was an international hit for a “Folksy Singer” by the name of Susanne Vega. She had two relatively solid hits. The first was a song about a Diner ("Toms Diner" or something like that) ..and that Diner...which was a real place, was later featured in the Hit Comedy Series, “Seinfeld”. (The one they always go to) Yep, Same Diner.

The second hit for her was a song titled simply, “Luka”. It was a rather sad song that told the story of a young boy that lived with abuse. Not a popular subject for a song, but a powerful message and an equally well put together melody etc.  She wrote the song about a real boy that she met named Luka, though she said he was not an abused kid, but rather "just different" than the group of kids she had seen him playing with.
I remember first hearing the song while I was living in Germany, a lifetime ago:)  I immediately liked the song, as did most of the younger Germans, as it got tons of airplay on the Berlin radio station I listened to!

What I like about the song most is the sharp, clear and strong presence of the 12 string guitar throughout the song, the driving drum beat and cymbal strikes, the almost xylophone sounding synth, Susanne's own haunting overdubbed harmony and her unique voice and annunciation. When she says the word “trouble” for instance, she says it in a most unusual and emphasizing way. She really sells the song. If you have never heard it, I hope you enjoy it. For those of you that know the tune, welcome back to the 1980's!!
Click the link below.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Memories of Mama and Panama!

A couple of days ago, my wife started the long anticipated task of finally (after about 20 years of contemplation) getting hold of a “Call To Haul” company, to clear out almost 50 years of clutter from her Parent's basement.

Like most people, they had simply put things in the basement over a long period of time likely thinking they would sort it all out later!  Some of the kids had also left things behind, or stored things there “temporarily”....meaning virtually forever!

Well, the Call To Haul folks came and went, and Sandi certainly re-lived some moments as she worked through the years of memories.

She came home later with a few items that she could not bear to let go of, as they reminded her of her youth and of her Parents and family as they “used to be”.

I think we all have little things that remind us of days gone by...and days we wish we could experience again.  For me, it will always be the cuckoo clock that I watched my Mom pick out in Triberg, Germany...while visiting me when I was stationed In Berlin.   It hangs on our living room wall and is the single most powerful reminder of her in my daily life.

Well, Sandi takes out of the car, a rather large “centerpiece” (for lack of a better description) that appears to be made of hand carved wood.   It is a three tier affair, with individually crafted shallow bowls, and individual pieces of fruit, also hand carved and made of wood.  I see a Banana, Guava, Star Fruit, a Pear and even a Pineapple atop the whole thing!  The three tiers rotate “lazy Susan” style and it all appears to be mostly intact, though it is a bit dirty and covered in 40 plus years of dust!

I am told it came from Panama, where Sandi's Mom is from. (Sandi is half Panamanian and half Puerto Rican)  It is one of few items from Panama that has survived the trip from Panama and the 40 plus years of Tacoma living, (with 6 kids in a tiny house!) since her family settled here in Tacoma.

She is smiling and tells me how her Mom (whom she has always called "Mama") used to task her with rubbing linseed oil over ever crack and crevice of this wooden contraption!  She tells me how she was made to use a toothbrush to ensure that all of the intricately carved parts got their share of oil!  Now, she said this half smiling, and half recalling the tediousness of having to do this as a young child!  Even so, I could see that this piece meant a great deal to her and was a powerful connection to her Mom, who has been suffering with Dementia for the past several years and sometimes forgets who Sandi is. 

Knowing its value to Sandi, I take it from her, carefully disassemble the whole thing and begin to clean it up.   I used some steel wool to clean some of the decades old dirt and grime off the bowls.  I fired up the compressor and used some high pressure air to root out the gunk in the small cracks and crevices.   It took a bit longer than I thought to clean this thing up, but in the end, after breaking out the toothbrush like she had remembered all those years ago, and applying a cleaner/wood restorer all over the piece, it began to come back to life.

I spent a couple hours polishing the pieces of fruit, and making sure that everything fit and went back together properly.  There were a couple minor issues that I will have to attend to at another time, but it all went together, worked and looked very nice! I brought the whole thing upstairs and placed it in the center of our coincidentally, just purchased dining room table, (Dark Mango wood) and it looked fantastic!
 I brought Sandi upstairs and showed her the cleaner version of her memorable treasure, and she just beamed.  I could tell it reminded her of her Mom...her much younger Mom, and I told her it looked perfect and will remain on our dining room table as a treasured family heirloom.  She smiled and hugged me and thanked me for cleaning it all up. 

 An unexpected memory brought back to life, to be enjoyed by yet another generation...It was a good day:)

When my daughter came home later and saw it for the first time, she remarked, “that is so pretty”!  Hmmmm..I wonder how she would feel about putting some Linseed oil on it from time to time!!?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cereal Box Music!

As I was putzing around my home office today, trying to make the rather small amount of space seem larger by re-arranging a few things, I came across some items that I had forgotten I had!

While moving and re-arranging some books and record albums, I saw a small plastic sleeve drop to the floor.   I looked, and discovered that it contained several 6 inch records!   Now these are not just any records...these are cardboard cutout records that came on the back of cereal boxes!   I doubt that anyone under the age of 40 will even remember these, but for some of us, these records represented the days when a prize in a Cracker Jack box, or a cereal box was something worth fighting over!! (and subsequently getting a spanking for!)

Now I do not recall liking cold cereal when I was a kid, though I did enjoy a lot of Quaker Oatmeal and Cream Of Wheat!  However, I do recall seeing these records on the back of the “high quality” cereal boxes, such as “Sugar Smacks”, “Sugar Frosted Flakes” and the like.  Those were expensive cereals for our family in the early days, but I can remember seeing a few boxes of these cereals making their way into our cupboards from time to time!  I don't remember all of the Artists that contributed their talents to the millions of General Mills, and Kellog Cereal eating children...but I do remember a few.   Oliver, (He sang the song “Jean”...which was my Mom's name) the Jackson Five, (yep, with little Michael Jackson) the Monkee's, Bobby Sherman and the Archies...to name a few!

I looked through the little records and saw that I have three Archies, two Monkee's and a Bobby Sherman record.  Now for some of you that don't know, I actually thought “Veronica”...the dark haired, keyboard playing girl, of the “Archies” ...was simply beautiful! (Hell, she still looks pretty good even after all these years!)  Well, she was the inspiration for my daughters name..True Story!

An interesting side note about the Bobby Sherman record, is that the title of the song is “Seattle”! I actually recalled the melody of the song from my childhood, but back then Seattle was simply a place far, far away on the other side of the Country.  It might as well have been on the other side of the world!   Little did I know how close to Seattle...I would end up living!?

I could not resist throwing a couple of these on the turntable and having a listen.  First up was Bobby Sherman and “Seattle”.   “The bluest skies you've ever seen...in Seattle”. ???  Hmm...after living here for twenty years...I wondered, who the hell came up with that lyric!?  Ahh heck, they might have been here during the summer...I will cut the writer some slack:)!  Next up, a classic Monkees tune, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”.   A bit “thin” sounding, as these are plastic coated pieces of cardboard...but it played just fine and the Monkees sounded...well, pretty damn good!

The records seemed to sound a bit better, and look a lot “cooler” in my memories, but that is a common experience when looking back through the years!

I decided to take a few photos of these childhood wonders and throw them up on the blog so you can see them.   I thought they might bring a grin to a few others out there!

Here is a quick video/sound recording of the Monkee's belting it out via cardboard record!!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tacoma Skyline At Night: Take 2! (A different perspective)

After shooting the Tacoma Night Skyline looking south from the 11th St Bridge, I wondered what it might look like if I were to shoot it in the opposite direction!?

I looked for a spot from which to get a different perspective.  First I tried east of the water, after sneaking into the secure private docks, but the docks sat too low to get a nice broad view of the downtown buildings, and they were too unstable for a long exposure...they moved with the small waves etc.

I looked east....and saw the Hwy 509 Cable bridge, the same one seen in the photo I took looking south.  Looks good to me!

I drove over to the Cable Bridge and parked my car in the median just as the nice day turned to rain.  Hmm, I was about 45 minutes early so I walked about looking for the best view and angle as I determined how I might shield the camera from all of the powerful lights that point upwards and onto the cabling of the bridge.  It looks nice with all that light, but it is a photographers nightmare, especially when trying to take a long exposure, night shot!

I was set up and taking a few test shots, when a local Police Officer stopped by to ask what the hell I was doing with my car parked in the median and why I was over the side of the bridge 80 feet over the water!?  Ooops!!  Good thing I knew him!  I told him that he had arrived just in time to save me from throwing myself off the bridge!!!... and we had a good laugh.  I explained the picture taking thing and he was on his way. (I will be handing off a print of the finished photo to him as a thank you)

When the lighting allowed for a properly balanced and exposed "13 second exposure", I began taking pictures.  The bridge is large, but cars and trucks crossing it while my camera's shutter was open, was bound to blur my photos due to the vibration and movement of the bridge that they caused. (Suspended by cables...duh)  I took about 9 shots before I lost the balanced lighting I sought.  Two of the shots were taken when only a small car had crossed the bridge behind me and I was relatively certain that it had not blurred the photo too much.

I had been rained on for the better part of an hour as I held my hand over and to the side of the lens to keep the powerful stray light and the rainwater out of my camera's lens!

Pretty successful outing and I dried off in no time.

Here is the Tacoma Night Skyline....looking north towards the same bridge I had taken the southern facing shot just a week before.

And here is the same photo, (Taken the following day!) but with the 11th St Bridge included so you can see where I took the previous blog post photo from!  Both Bridges captured, each captured while standing on the other!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Looking Back and Down Under...

I was recently on Ebay, late at night, looking for an album or two to buy.  As usual, I started looking at one thing, which led to another, which took me to a completely different genre of music than I had first intended!  Such is Ebay!

I came across a band that I had not heard in a very long time.  I remembered their very popular song, Georgy Girl, and the 1966'ish film of the same name.  I recalled hearing the song on AM radio back when I was a single digit kid, and I remember liking both the song and particularly, the lead voice. 

There was a "timbre" or quality to her voice that I (and apparently a lot of others) particularly liked.  Sometimes its that "timbre" that reels me in.  Jim Croce is a good example of this, as I really like his "honky tonk" and "smoke filled bar" style of singing...but his voice has a quality to it that I just find appealing.   

Well, there were two songs that this group did, that I especially liked, one was "Georgy Girl" and the other "I'll Never Find Another You".  The group was an Australian band..or more accurately, started out in the very early 1960's as a "Folk Influenced, Pop Quartet".  The bands' name was, "The Seekers".

The Seekers featured three men...two of which were Guitarists that sang harmony, (they played banjo and mandolin as well sometimes) and a Double Bass player (The bass that looks like a huge violin sitting upright on the floor for you younger folks) that also sang harmony.  Judith Durham played piano and was the lead singer.  I should mention that the three men in the band really do a great job harmonizing and completing the vocal sound of the group, though Judith really brings a distinct upper range/sound to the group.  She has a big voice for such a small lady, and admittedly, I like the hint of that Australian accent!  It doesn't hurt that she is "easy on the eyes" as well!

This was the first Australian band to top the UK and U.S. Charts...ever.  They reached number two in the U.S. and number one in the U.K.  This was at a time when the Beatles were at their peak, so no small achievement!  They are in the Guinness World Record Book for the highest attendance at a concert in the Southern Hemisphere! (200,000 people attended their "Return To Australia Concert" in Melbourne)

Long story short, I bought two albums.  I could not find an album with both songs on it!  Ughhhhh!  I received one of the albums today and after a quick cleaning, threw it on the phonograph and had a listen...in MONO!  There was the unique voice of Judith Durham that I remembered...and you can actually hear the double bass being played by "Athol Guy". (yeah...Athol?!? Unusual name!)

I remember telling my daughter, when she was actively singing and involved a bit more in chorus and solo singing activities, "You don't need a gimmick and don't need to sing all weird the way many do these days...the good ones just Stand and Sing!"  A good voice doesn't need a show to back it up, and I thought how fitting it was that the two YouTube videos I have included here (so you can hear the songs) show Judith Durham literally, standing and singing!  (Some of it with her hands on her hips!)

Oh, and I love the Australian annunciation of "Fortune" that you hear when Judith is singing the third verse in "I'll Never Find Another You"...haha..I don't know why, but I do!

Have a listen....all the way back to the 1960's..and from, Down Under!

Georgy Girl

I'll Never Find Another You (Enhanced Audio)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tacoma Skyline At Night (With The Right lens!)

Soooo, I went back out to capture the night scene that I tried to get two weeks ago.  This time I brought ALL my lenses just in case!!  I ended up using the standard kit lens, and intended on duplicating the shots with my 40mm prime lens, as it is a bit sharper.

Well, I got into taking the photos and got busy with keeping track of exposures and shutter speed times and was simply to lazy to duplicate the shots with the better lens....again:)

This time, I took longer exposures to allow the lighting in the scene to light the roadways and water etc.  I was simply too hurried/impatient last time, to really work on getting the best/most flattering exposure for this scene.  This time, I relaxed and took the time to get it right.  I was pleased with the shot below and I was glad I went back out to refine the shot.

It is a significantly better shot in my opinion! (Even though Blogger compresses the $^@& out of my pics!)


Sunday, June 8, 2014

More Street Photography!

Well, as unusual as it is for me to actually follow through with a thought/plan...I actually got out a couple of weeks ago to practice some more Street Photography!  In truth, I had been sent a cell phone pic of the Tacoma Docks area, and I really liked it.  It was a great photo and had been taken in the morning, around sunrise.  This provided some very nice lighting and I commented how nice I thought the photo was.

I set out a week or so later to see if I could capture a similar scene at dusk, as I had wanted to compile a few locations from which to shoot a nice "Night Skyline" of Tacoma.  (You may remember the "Searching For A Skyline" post some time ago)

At any rate, I went out to the "11th Street Bridge", which looks to the south and takes in the Tacoma Docks, as well as the relatively new Cable Bridge and the Tacoma Dome in the background.  It is a nice view that includes a little bit of water that is so much a part of Tacoma.

I waked out onto the bridge a bit early and set up my tripod and took a few cell phone pics of my own!  I have wanted to try out my recently acquired "Cell Phone Tripod Adapter" anyway!...haha, I know..it's cheesy but whatever!  Below is an actual cell phone camera pic I shot that evening using my ultra cool adapter!

When I left the house, I had grabbed my camera bag (an old army green, canvas shoulder bag) which contains my kit lens and a strobe with a couple of remote triggers just in case...or so I thought.  As I am setting up, I reach into my bag and discover there is no kit lens!?  Are you #^!@$!#%^  kidding me?!  I only use two lenses with my DSLR...the kit lens, which allows for a wide angle to mild telephoto (Zoom) and a fixed focal length, 40mm pancake lens. (Short telephoto)  Today, I would be stuck with the 40mm lens and its "restrictive" view...hmmm.  Oh well, no wide angle for me!

As I am waiting for the sun to go down, I realize how different the lighting is from the photo my friend had taken on his cell phone.  I realize that with the sun setting in the west, my "scene" was in the shade cast by the taller buildings downtown and not in the more flattering warm light normally cast at this transition between day and night.  The sunrise from the east obviously cast a more flattering light on this scene...in hindsight.  I was a bit disappointed and took a few, very "flat" looking shots. 

I decided to simply wait until it was a bit darker, so I could shoot a few true "dusk" photos.  While I had been waiting, I had noticed a young "skateboarder" moving across and down the grade of the bridge I was shooting from.  I tried to snap off a few pics, but they too were "flat", given the boring lighting.

As it became a bit darker, the street lights came on.  The lights began to cast slight shadows on the surroundings at this point.  I took a few more shots with the nearby buildings lit a bit, and the sky darkening.  At about this time, I see the skateboarder and what turned out to be his Mom (I thought they were a couple) walking towards me from the east.  I really liked the lighting at this point and a skateboarder on a bridge...lit by a street light?  Sounded like a great "Street Photo"!

I took about 6 shots of the young man atop his skateboard.  One or two had the lighting and "look" that I wanted.   It was that "urban" look that looks great in black and white.   I was happy that I was able to capture one person out on the streets that evening, as I wasn't expecting to have this kind of opportunity.  The photo posted here is the shot I liked best. 

It was just after this that I was able to capture my "Tacoma Docks" photo, in lighting that would provide for that "Dusk'ish" look that I wanted.  Not exactly what I had in mind, but you have to take what you can get and make the best of it.  It is typical Tacoma...a few pretty sights with an older building or two and a vacant parking lot.  Contrasts...both figuratively and literally!  All in all, a pleasant shot.

After snapping a few more photos, I loaded the tripod and camera back into the car and headed home.  I had used a fixed focal length lens instead of my more desirable lens and had pulled off a couple of respectable photos anyway!  Not a bad two hours or so...and I surprised myself again with a couple of local "Street" photos.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Street Photography

"Bible Thumpers" Near Lincoln High School  (Shot thru a wet windshield!)

Back when I was just getting into photography and picture taking, I was blessed to be in a large city that offered a huge variety of people and cultures.  I really started learning about photography when I was in the Army and stationed in Berlin, Germany.

I learned the basics of developing black and white/color films, basic composition and exposure and the like and I enjoyed printing my own photos when I could, as I felt that no one was as meticulous as I would be!  In those days I preferred to shoot slide film. (Kodachrome...yeah just like the song)  I had a Pentax K1000 SLR and a standard 50mm lens.  The Army had a good Photo Lab and it was outfitted with fantastic equipment that was pretty much free to use. 

I took pictures of everything...Buildings, Russian Guards, Scenic Photos of Cities and Mountains and the like.  But more than these rather pedestrian photographic tasks, Berlin would afford me an opportunity to learn about "Street Photography".  I am not sure that is what it was called back then, but it is the current term for taking photos of people and spaces within a bustling urban setting. 

I remember heading out the door of my tiny, one bedroom apartment, hopping on an "U-Bahn" (Subway) from "Oscar Helena Heim Station" and jumping off at "Wittenburg Platz" in the heart of downtown Berlin...to take what I called...People Pictures.

These outings consisted of me with a camera slung over my shoulder, walking among the people, in the midst of one of the busiest areas of the City.  It is a very large city and at the time had well over 3.5 million people living there. 

I would simply sit on a wall, or a bench...or one of the "U-Bahn" terminals and take pictures of people going about their business.  Sometimes it was mundane, other times it was fun...it just depended on my mood that day, and the random expressions and behaviors of the people I would see and photograph.  You never knew what might catch your eye!

It has been many years since I strolled about, looking for interesting people and faces to photograph.  I have not lived in a city as large as Berlin since then.  I also have not relied on walking and public transportation like I did while in Europe.  This has limited my enthusiasm for taking those "People Pictures"...or in todays terms...doing Street Photography.

Today, after weeks of considering taking to the streets like I had all those years ago, I loaded up my old green canvas shoulder bag with a fixed focal length lens ( 64mm pancake lens) on my DSLR and a remote Flash Unit (just in case?!)  I decided to head to downtown Tacoma at about noon, as there might be some folks walking around at lunchtime and there would certainly be some students at the UW Tacoma Campus nearby.

Union Station on Pacific Ave...across from UW Tacoma

It felt good to be out with my camera as I paid for parking and headed down the very long stairs that cut through the UW Campus towards Pacific Ave.  I took a few photos...but nothing inspiring.  There really weren't many people out.  Trouble with Tacoma is it simply is not as "Bustling" as Berlin was...or many of the other larger cities. 

As luck would have it, it started to rain...so I ducked into a Starbucks that shares a building with the UW Campus Book Store.

Not wanting to waste an outing, I looked around the Starbucks and hoped I would find someone/something interesting to discreetly photograph.  I took a photo of a man doing what has become completely normal and is now a part of modern culture...texting on his cell phone.  It was an "ok" shot...typical though and nothing stood out about it..though I did like the composition within the "darkish" Starbucks cafĂ©.

I was about to finish my small cup of Hot Cocoa (No vanilla syrup/Extra hot!) when a man came in and took a seat behind me.  He was an older gentleman and he sat down with his drink and cracked open a book as he relaxed in one of the more comfortable "I am going to be here for a while" chairs.

His face showed the lines of having lived and experienced a great deal.  I could not see his eyes, as they were covered under the rim of the Nike hat he was wearing.  He held the book with a steady hand and seemed quite absorbed with what he was reading.  The gentleman was lit naturally from a window over his left shoulder that really highlighted the texture of his face and lit up the red brick behind him.  This could be a really nice little shot!

Now the trouble with this, is that he was behind me and it would be terribly awkward for me to turn around, put a camera in front of him and click away.  It would be rude and it would ruin a perfectly natural composition.  In my earlier days I might have shied away from this situation, but I had missed out on many a good photo because I lacked the tenacity and confidence to "get the shot".  The other thing to note is that a DSLR, while quiet..still makes the characteristic shutter release sound.  This means that I would need to get this shot right the very first time in case my nice gentleman hears/notices this and becomes less than "natural" and relaxed.

I set the camera to "Program" mode, where I could simply set the F Stop to F11 and let the camera worry about the shutter speed.  I carefully turned the camera around backwards as it sat on my rather elevated table and prayed that I would get a decent shot.  I pressed the shutter button one time and then tucked my camera back into my bag and left the coffee shop no one the wiser!

I walked up the 10 or so sets of stairs leading to my car and took a few photos of reflections in the rain spattered puddles as I walked. 

As I was driving home, I admit...it felt good to get out for an hour or so and force myself to see things from a photographers point of view again.  It was fun.  I hoped I had gotten that "one good shot"...which is all I ever hope for on an outing like this.

The photo of the man in the coffee Shop?  Yep...it turned out just fine!  Maybe I still have it in me after all!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Greatest Female Vocalist?!

Best Female Singer Of All Time?

Recently, I was talking to a co-worker and the subject of who the best “Female Singer” came up. Actually, the wording used was “Best Female Vocalist of All Time”! Given the rather broad time period this would involve, I decided to limit it to my lifetime, as I do not think I am in a position to judge thousands of years of Female Singers. (Nor do I have the experience, or first hand knowledge to do so)

Like any other “who is the best” discussion/debate, this one would bring with it the comparisons of awards and dollars earned and the like and it had a generational element to it as well, as I was about twenty years or more older than this person! While I understood the “commercial” and “revenue producing” comparisons...and even the technical “x number of octaves range” displayed by one singer or another, I could simply not agree with my co-workers choice in “best” singer. Mostly because in my opinion money, and technical ability...when it comes to a pleasing and beautiful voice...simply do not tell the complete story.

Of course anyone reading this, with any common sense, will say “it is totally subjective!!” Well, I certainly agree and I suggested this during the discussion. I mean, music tends to transport many of us to times and places we personally cherish and for some younger people, it defines where they are now...how they currently feel etc. I mean, they are in the middle of creating their “good old days” as we speak. Music and Songs and Singers...mean something special and different to each of us, for many different reasons. And for me, as I have gotten older, I tend towards music from my past rather than staying current with each new coming music trend and “sound”. That is not true for everyone, but it is for some. Certainly we “add to” our collective musical taste rather than “leaving the old behind” for the new. At least I think so.

I also doubt much of the music and singing these days would be enjoyed or should I say tolerated...by many people 60 years ago...just as their music is barely tolerated now! (Except for the rampant and shameless “Remakes” and “Remixes” of those classic tunes..funny how they are good enough to remake huh?) Likewise, I do not expect the current generation of teens to be enamored with The Beatles, the way my Parents generation was. It all has it's time and place...and fans.

Whenever I engage in a spirited debate, I always walk away from the discussion and think about the arguments on both sides. I over think it (like I do with everything) and usually I am able to understand the other sides points much more clearly the next day, or at least recognize the merits, if there are any.

In this regard I did a little looking around at Statistical and sales data etc. I will get some of the “technical” arguments out of the way first. 

Now when my co-worker told me who they thought the best singer was, and gave the “statistical data” to support it, it coincided with the current Music Industry's criteria. This concerns “record sales”, and “most number one hits” and the like. Ok, I understand the weight that carries, but I also realize that there is an enormous difference between the ability to generate those statistics now, vs say 20, 30 or 40 plus years ago! And guess what? There were some awfully good female vocalists back then too! This methods of arriving at the “Greatest” is similar to the Movie Industry touting the latest movies surpassing all previous “Gross Sales” and “Grossing more money the first weekend” of any Movie before it! Well, at 15.00 a movie ticket...I would hope so!! Movies were a “buck” when I was growing up! This “Movie” analogy is simply a way to illustrate how the measurement of popularity and gross earnings can be determined and even exploited.

Rather than giving you a long explanation, here is a rather brief example of what I am talking about as it relates to movies (From IO9.Com):
For some perspective...there were less than 133 million people in the United States when “Gone With The Wind” was released. (1939) There were over 317 million people in the United States at the end of 2011! Gone With The Wind's tiny 32 million dollar gross “earnings” pales in comparison to even the most average movie's earnings today, but it's ticket sales tell a different story...even prior to the re-releases.

In a similar light, there was some discussion about “sales” and with this there was talk about the ability for music singles/albums to be purchased (and downloaded and streamed) via cd, mp3, I Tunes, tape (until recently) and that leaves out the multiple purchases of songs to replace those that you wiped off your hard drive or Ipod...or your Iphone ...or...(it goes on and on)! Lets just say, its wayyyy easier and cheaper (as a percentage of income) to purchase a “single”or a “song” than it has ever been in the history of music! I would also add that 99 percent of the albums I purchased as a kid, I still have!! (because they were a big deal to buy!) My generation of children did not “own” near as much music as today's children, as it was simply too expensive and I think disposable income was significantly lower. I mean, none of my friends had a library of 1000 songs at age 14....it is completely common to see that now. Heck most adults didn't have more than 50-75 albums. I mean, I played the records we had at the house. It's not like I bought The Beatles, or Ricky Nelson or Johnny Cash or Frankie Lane, or Black Sabbath (really Debbie!?)...or whatever my older siblings and/or Parents had purchased. Most of us picked the “records” we liked the best from our parents or older siblings meager collections and played them, heard them and grew to like some of them. I mean that WAS the collection!! It took a trip to a store and cash to hear a song, other than over the radio. I would have killed to have Pandora!!!??

I wont even try to estimate the number of us kids that would wait by the radio...with tape recorder ready...to record songs that were on the air! Speaking of “air time” it was not that long ago that there was no “Satellite Radio”, Internet Radio”, YouTube, and the like and there were half as many FM Stations to listen to music! Years earlier than that, there might have been only one AM radio station to tune into! In my youth we didn't have Parents that would buy us a “single” after “single”, the way parents buy mp3's, and “I Tunes” for their kid's Ipods and cell phones...these days. That is not meant to characterize it as “bad”, it simply was not an option financially years ago...due to the media (mostly vinyl) used for music. Lets just say that “music sales” in this ever expanding Television/Internet/4G/Cable/Satellite/Wireless market etc...is simply not a fair measure when determining the “Best Female Singer” etc...especially if one uses “sales” and “downloads” and “views” etc as Billboard clearly uses now to determine a Singer's popularity. The sheer exposure possible for artist these days is staggering! It bears mentioning again, that with literally more than 317 million people in the U.S. now compared to 200 million in say, even the early 1970's, (my biggest music years I think) the advantage in “record sales” and “exposure” is huge! That is over 100 Million more people!! 

Don't believe me? Here's How Billboard Charts it's songs: (Yes..the way one gets “Number One Hits” etc)

On January 4, 1936, Billboard magazine published its first music hit parade. The first Music Popularity Chart was calculated in July 1940. A variety of song charts followed, which were eventually consolidated into the Hot 100 by mid-1958. The Hot 100 currently combines single sales, radio airplay, digital downloads, and streaming activity (including data from YouTube and other video sites). All of Billboard's charts use this basic formula. What separates the charts is which stations and stores are used; each musical genre has a core audience or retail group. Each genre's department at Billboard is headed up by a chart manager, who makes these determinations.
For many years, a song had to be commercially available as a single to be considered for any of Billboard's charts. At the time, instead of using SoundScan or BDS, Billboard obtained its data from manual reports filled out by radio stations and stores. According to the 50th Anniversary issue of Billboard, prior to the official implementation of Nielsen SoundScan tracking in November 1991, many radio stations and retail stores removed songs from their manual reports after the associated record labels stopped promoting a particular single. Thus songs fell quickly after peaking and had shorter chart lives. In 1990, the country singles chart was the first chart to use SoundScan and BDS. They were followed by the Hot 100 and the R&B chart in 1991. Today, all of Billboard's charts use this technology.
Originally, Billboard had separate charts for different measures of popularity, including disk jockey playings, juke box song selection, and best selling records in retail stores. A composite standing chart that combined these gradually grew to become a top 100, the predecessor to the current Hot 100 chart. The juke box chart ceased publication after the June 17, 1957 issue, the disk jockey chart, after the July 28, 1958 issue, and the best seller chart, after the October 13, 1958 issue. The July 28, 1958 issue was also the last issue that called the composite chart the Top 100; the following week began the Hot 100. Billboard publishes many different charts, with the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 being the most famous. Billboard also has charts for the following music styles: rock, country, dance, bluegrass, jazz, classical, R&B, rap, electronic, pop, Latin, Christian music, comedy albums, catalog albums, and even ringtones for mobile (cell) phones. In 2009 Billboard partnered with MetroLyrics to offer top 10 lyrics for each of the charts.
At the end of each year, Billboard tallies the results of all of its charts, and the results are published in a year-end issue and heard on year-end editions of its American Top 40 and American Country Countdown radio broadcasts. Between 1991 and 2006, the top single/album/artist(s) in each of those charts was/were awarded in the form of the annual Billboard Music Awards, which were held in December until the awards went dormant in 2007. The awards returned in May 2011.
Before September 1995, singles were allowed to chart in the week they first went on sale based on airplay points alone. The policy was changed in September 1995 to only allow a single to debut after a full week of sales on combined sales and airplay points. This allowed several tracks to debut at number one.
In December 1998, the policy was further modified to allow tracks to chart on the basis of airplay alone without a commercial release. This change was made to reflect the changing realities of the music business. Previous to this, several substantial radio and MTV hits had not appeared on the Billboard chart at all, because many major labels chose not to release them as standalone singles, hoping their unavailability would spur greater album sales. Not offering a popular song to the public as a single was unheard of before the 1970s. The genres that suffered most at the time were those that increasingly impacted pop culture, including new genres such as trip hop and grunge. Among the many pre-1999 songs that had ended up in this Hot 100 limbo were The Cardigans' "Lovefool", Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn", Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris", OMC's "How Bizarre", Sugar Ray's "Fly" and No Doubt's "Don't Speak".

Think there might be an advantage these days!!?? :)

OK, let us talk about Grammy Awards, as they represent the pinnacle of achievement for Singers and are recognized/voted on via experts in each musical category. (And spoken word) Let's be honest, these are the Singer's “Oscars”!

A little background about the Grammy's: (Wonder how many young folks even know what a “Grammy”...ie “Gramaphone” even looks like!?)

The Grammy Awards were first awarded in 1958 and were then known as the Gramophone Awards. However, the first time that the live awards show was televised was in 1971. Prior to this, there was not actually a Grammy Awards show. The show was multiple, different music specials, which showcased the nominated artists and was called The Best on Record. Prior to the 1971 awards show, artists had the option to either travel to Los Angeles or New York, which were the two locations where the ceremonies were held. Winners would receive their awards at one of the two ceremonies. Since 1973, the Grammy Awards have aired on CBS. The process of nominating and winning is another question that many people have.
The nomination process is not done by the general public. Record companies are the first step in the process. The recording companies are allowed to nominate the recording artists that the company feels is deserving of such a nomination. There are then a group of about 150 music experts that have the responsibility of reviewing the recordings of the nominated artists to determine if the recordings are suitable for nomination and if they have been nominated in the appropriate categories which include 31 different recording fields.
Not just anyone is allowed to vote for the winners. Of the experts voting in the Grammy Award's nomination process, experts only have the ability to vote in the categories for which they have expertise. They are also allowed to nominate in the four general categories which are Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist. These four categories can contain artists from any genre. They also nominate in a maximum of nine of 31 categories. Once the music experts have done their nominating of the recording artists, the final step is for those who are members of the Academy to vote on those artists who have been nominated. The members of the Academy vote in the same four general categories as the music experts and in no more than eight of the 31 categories. Once the members have voted, the winners are tallied by an accounting firm that has the responsibility of keeping the winners identities a secret until the live telecast in which the Grammy Awards are presented.
There are so many different Grammy Awards presented during the awards show that many of them are presented prior to the live telecast and are not seen by the viewing public. To a recording artist, a Grammy Award is the ultimate honor to receive as a result of their hard work in the recording world.”
I wanted to include the Grammy's as a “measure” of a Singer's talent and success, as it certainly bears mentioning.

OK, Enough of the technical side of things!

My personal opinion of what constitutes a great singer, is quite simple really.

Since I was using movies as a comparison earlier, I will use Actors as an example here. When I was younger, there were a few Actors that I just didn't ...well...at first, just didn't really “like” when I first saw them. My best example is Jodie Foster. It is not that I dislike her in any way, it was just some “judging a book by it's cover” thing for me. I would pop in a VHS Tape (yeah) of a “great movie” recommended to me thinking “I am just not a fan of”Jodie Foster! And every time I watched her in a movie...she literally drew me into the movie and her character...every damn time!! I mean...“Nell”???!!! Can you imagine me sitting down watching that movie??! I loved it. “Silence of The Lambs”??...yep she nailed it again!! And one of my all time favorite movies ever...”Contact”...I forgot she was even acting!! Jodie Foster is an incredible Actor...she is able to leave “herself” out of the role...and becomes the person ..the character...and pulls you into the person she is portraying. This is a selfless thing and, in my opinion, is a hallmark of all great Actors. They make you believe that they are the thing they are portraying!

Now let's talk about Singers. For me, this “selflessness” and “drawing one into the song..the words..the story..the meaning...the emotion”...is what makes a truly great singer. Do many singers possess excellent technical abilities? Absolutely. Some though, and not many...have the right timbre, the right mood, the right emotional expression...and the innate ability to make you believe that they are singing the song...from their heart, their own soul... via their voices. They can make you feel as though the song is literally one of their personal experiences.

These singers do not make it about their “technique” or “range” or abilities. Do they perhaps use these techniques, ranges and abilities to better convey a song? You bet! Do some singers pick songs to better show their technique, their range and their abilities? Again, you bet! I simply prefer the former!

I find it unnatural that every song have a climactic pinnacle...of holding a long and difficult to reach note...just because “they can”. Josh Groban is my favorite example of this. He has a wonderful and technically fantastic voice. But does he reallllly have to hit the above mentioned note in every song??!  It reminds me of a piano teacher I once had that said, “being able to play a lot of notes quickly to fill in parts of songs can be a great asset...doing it all the time can make a good song sound bad”. In essence, sometimes less is more. “Play the song” vs play as many notes as you can fit into the measure.

I mean..here is an example for you...how much “range” do you think Louis Armstrong had as a singer? Half an octave?!! Ok, I am kidding but really, range was not his thing. (He made his trumpet exude SERIOUS Range though!) Next question...can ANYBODY sing “A Wonderful World” like he can???!! I think not. But when you hear him sing it...you can almost see him smiling... he makes you feel and believe the song, not due to his technical ability, but because he “sings”(with his soul)...the SONG!
“Range was not Burl Ives thing either and to be honest....wasn't even Frank Sinatra's thing. But I doubt many will question their ability to “sing”.

And it is here that I had my misgiving about my co-workers “Best Singer” choice, Mariah Carey. I have heard some of her songs, and she is good. Not my style of music and she get's carried away I think with “showing what she can do” vs singing a song. I had occasion to hear her sing the National Anthem. Now the National Anthem means a lot to me. I learned much about it as a child, when singing it was much more popular. (And the Pledge Of Allegiance was not so “controversial”?!) In my Army years, I learned much about the care and meaning of our Flag. (The Star Spangled Banner) Morning “Reveille” and evening's “Retreat/To the Colors” found me and all soldiers stopping, facing the Flag and Saluting in respect. I served in places where it was an emotional reminder of home...and I had the duty and the honor, of placing that Flag in the hands of more than a few grieving widows at Memorial Services where I was charged with handling the Military Honors.

I listened and watched Mariah Carey sing the national Anthem and I could not help but think that it was about her, not the Flag..not our Country. I could certainly be wrong, but it seemed that her focus was on showing off her voice..her “technical ability” and not on simply singing a very, very important song with reverence and grace. She sang it like a damn “Pop Song”!! It turned me off..big time.

Am I being a bit hard on her? Am I making too much of today's popular singers..I mean many feel the need to “polish up” the old Star Spangled banner right? I suppose. But the other thing that has always been a big part of my liking or disliking a Singer..Actor...or any person of “Great Talent”...is Humility. The ability to be gracious and humble and put your ego aside for things that deserve it.

In her 24 plus years of singing, Mariah Carey has had 18 Number One Singles and has sold over 200 million albums, singles and videos. She has also won 5 Grammy's. She is reported to have a “five octave range” and is seen commercially as the best Female Vocalist. She certainly has a huge following and is a current musical powerhouse. Mariah is a philanthropist and has given tons of money to a variety of Charities. I am sure she is a good lady and she is certainly a great vocalist by any standard. Most “successful”? (and these days that translates into “Money”..lets not mince words) Sure.

The best??   No.   Not in this guy's opinion.

As a side note, there are two Female Singers that top Mariah Carey's “Best Selling” numbers....Madonna, and Barbara Streisand! Ummm how is that for contrast!! I doubt my co-worker would give either of those two a second glance! Ha! Just goes to show you....

I am being tough on Mariah Carey, and in truth, I have never really given much of her music a chance, but I have heard enough of the “hitting the high notes because I can” stuff, (Mariah, Celine ..every American Idol contestant...etc) that it just doesn't interest me. She was certainly not the first, and will not be the last.

Admittedly, I am much more a “Song”guy than a “Singer” or a “Band” guy. I like individual songs..some by the same group, or vocalist etc..but usually not. The vast majority, are ballads. That's just me...it is very subjective.

We have come full circle to the subjective....who do I like most as a “Female Singer”?

Well, let's talk about the profession related accolades etc, as we did with Mariah Carey. This will give some comparison of their respective successes.

This singer was part of a group, but in all honesty her singing WAS the reason for the groups successes. She sang for a mere 14 years (10 years less than Mariah Carey) and in that time had 15 Number One Hits, sold over 100 Million Albums and Singles...and over the span of only 7 years, was nominated for 18 Grammy Awards, and won 3 Grammy's. She also had 2 Songs inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, something Mariah has yet to achieve. 
Lastly, she did not have to show legs, cleavage and wear the tightest clothing possible...as most female vocalists these days seem to do?!  She actually let her singing be what she was about.

Oh, and she played drums while singing like an angel!! Try doing that Mariah!

I figured I would mention these achievements for those who find that stuff more “qualifying” than I do.

My pick, which is completely subjective and would be my pick regardless of how many “Number Ones” or “Millions of Records Sold” is the humble and incomparable...Karen Carpenter.

Not as “cool” as picking Mariah...in fact rather “uncool” to admit these days, but in the world of music and vocalists, and in the eyes of her peers both past and present, she is certainly considered “One of the best”!

As for the “Best of All Time”...I am sure in another twenty years, my co-worker will be faced with defending Mariah against another persons passionate pointing out of the ........latest and greatest and the newest..."Best Female Vocalist of All Time”!   I wish them luck in their defense!:)

Below are a few You Tube Videos of Karen doing some of my favorites...three of them as she is drumming! Take a listen/enjoy.
This is back when you had to "get it right"!  Karen was 20 years old here, playing drums and singing.
Carpenters "Close To You" 

Karen Singing "Superstar" on the Carol Burnett Show.
Carpenters "Superstar"
Another classic with Karen playing drums again while singing.
And this one?..Well I just really like the song!

Monday, January 27, 2014

WABDR Adventure Ride Day 4

Day 4

After our stay in Leavensworth, we were well rested and ready to make our way back towards home. We had intended on riding trails back towards Tacoma, stopping short about 40 miles and camping in an area called Green Water. This would be a good days ride on the trail and allow us to simply ride home the following day.

The mood was good, though we were leaving Brandon behind, and this out a damper on the remaining ride. Jim and I said Goodbye to Brandon and headed out to pickup the trail that would take us west/southwest through the mountains.

We found our trail just a few miles down the road and I fell in behind Jim, who had the GPS. We enjoyed some nice dirt trails as we gained elevation and made our way towards the mountains. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in the all too familiar position of being uncertain which trail to take, at a three way fork in the trail!

We spent an hour or so trying each one, only to find a dead end or having the trail take us the wrong way. Not again!!??? We had just started and this was a bit frustrating. We decided to go south a bit on pavement to head into the mountains/trails at a point further south.

We made our way south and picked up a trail that appeared correct and we rode this for quite a while before running into yet another dead end!? We rode a steep, westerly trail that looked like it would take us into/over the mountains in front of us. It was fun!! Nice hill climb…sometimes steep, sometimes not. It followed a ridge that gave us some really nice views of the town of Cle Elum below…wayyyy off in the distance. Just as we were really enjoying this trail and had climbed a good 1000 feet in elevation, we hit…….another dead end!!!! Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

Jim and I get off our bikes and take a break. We grab a snack and some water and sit down, taking in the view. We check the map and the GPS. We talk about how we have already used over three hours trying to find our way. Most importantly…we agree that we do not want to repeat day two's events and kill a day, stubbornly trying to find the correct route.

We had tried to get the correct map page for this area as well, but were unable to, so we were dependent on instinct and GPS at this point.

We decided to just head home via Interstate 90 to Highway 18…both very fast roads, but very direct routes. We rode back down the mountain and hit I-90. I am sure we looked funny with our tiny little bikes cruising in the right lane at 55-60 mph as the much faster cars and semi’s used the other three westbound lanes to get past us!!

As we are making our way west and had almost gotten to our Hwy 18 cutoff, Jim looks up at an off ramp to see….Brandon!  Brandon is up at the top of the on-ramp, trying to adjust his motorcycle, which he had secured to a motorcycle carrier attached to his SUV’s trailer hitch. Jim pulls over and then goes the wrong way up the on-ramp. OOOOOOOKKKK...hope no one is coming!!... I follow him up and there’s Brandon! He was very surprised to see us as I am sure he thought we were much further along in or ride back towards Tacoma.  We tell him what had happened and he tells us his bike is flopping around like a fish and he is afraid it might come off the rack!! Jim and I give him a hand getting the bike super secure on the rack, so he can make it back home without worry. We snap a few photos of the impromptu meeting, and we tell Brandon we will be taking pavement back home.  e say goodbye for the second time that day and head out.
It isn’t long before Brandon and his family are passing us on I-90 heading west.  A short while later Jim and I hit Hwy 18 and head south. It is a pretty boring and uneventful ride at this point, added to the fact that the trip is “over”. Not so fun at this point. We make decent time and seeing a large motorcycle dealership just outside of Auburn, WA…we decide it’s a good time to take a break!

We spent some time walking around, daydreaming about the new bikes we cant afford butttttttttt...It is always fun to look! I walk over and sit on a brand new Suzuki DR650 Dual Sport. Man it fits me perfectly!!  I am dirty and dusty from the days ride and look a bit like a bum with my off road riding gear on. I play around with the bike a bit, as I assumed it was outside for display. I dismount the bike and as we continue to look around, we notice a few minutes later, that the bike had been prepped for a customer that had just purchased the bike!! Oooops! Sorry man!!! (Hope I didn’t scratch it/get it dirty!)

We climb back on our bikes and head for home. As we arrive at the turnoff that takes you to Puyallup, WA or west to Interstate 5, Jim and I wave and part ways, as he has to ride to State Route 16 to get back home, as I ride towards Tacoma.

It was a bit of a letdown to end the ride running on pavement for the day, but it seems each trip has its own “flavor” of sorts. I have come to accept the trips for what they are…great, good or a little less good!   It is always fun to get away from the City and leave responsibilities behind for a time and  this ride was no exception. We learned a few more lessons, that will certainly help make future trips less problematic…and we came back healthy, unhurt and with our bikes intact. (well...Brandon's…was more or less "intact"!!)

I look forward to the next adventure!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WABDR Adventure Ride Day 3

Day 3

We woke up on day 3 of our ride sore, but well rested and ready to find our way out of the mess we had got ourselves into. 

As we moved about, getting ready for the day, Brandon casually told us he had a "weird dream" last night that freaked him out and that it seemed "very real"!  Jim and I immediately gave him a hard time about fighting with himself in his hammock last night!  We laughed a bit and Brandon went on to tell us that he had some concerns about our location last night etc, and he recalled the last thing he thought about before he went to sleep was..."gee, I wonder if there are Cougars around here"?  Brandon said, he thought to himself, "umm duh, of course there are Cougars out here"!

Brandon goes on to tell us that he had a bad dream in which he was "fighting a Cougar" as it had apparently found him easy prey in his hammock!. (Probably looked like a sausage of sorts!)  We just started laughing...what else was there to do!?  We told him how it looked from our perspective and that it all made sense now...as it looked like he was really in a fight with that imaginary Cougar!  He was surprised knowing that he had literally and physically fought this imaginary predator, and maybe a little embarrassed too!  Ha!

After recounting the now famous "Cougar Fight", we broke camp and packed up our gear.  We got it all put where it belonged on the motorcycles and started coasting/pushing our bikes downhill from our makeshift campsite.

We made our way downhill pretty easily.  We were able to move around the remaining fallen trees as I suspected from last night's recon of the "trail".  We coasted through a bunch of tall grass and weeds, and saw that the vegetation seemed to be thinning a bit.  Some time later, after a pretty easy descent we arrived at a fence.  On the other side of this fence/gate, we knew there was a ranch.  What a relief!  We had finally made our way out of that damn draw!!  We were pretty happy knowing we would be back on the correct trail soon.

We survey the fence in both directions.  It is 6 or 7 feet high and it appears that this long forgotten "path" of sorts was gated years ago.  We figure we can just find a wire tie or something and move the gate and be on our way!  Um, no.  The gate has been "wire tied" in about 4 or 5 spots with verrrry heavy gauge wire fence ties.  You are not removing or un-winding these fence ties with your hands!

Time to break out the tool kit.  Now I have always "over prepared" with regard to tools taken on these trips.  Funny thing is...we have yet to use them to affect any mechanical repairs to the bikes!?  You might recall we used a couple tools and my tent poles to repair Jim's frame on the last adventure ride...but it wasn't the tools that saved us there, it was the tent poles!

This time, I needed something strong to "unbend" or cut through these thick wire fence ties.  The best tool/only tool I had that would be of some help was the Multi-tool I had packed as an "extra" do it all kind of tool.  Now in truth, I needed a larger than normal set of pliers or wire cutters to deal with these wire ties, but...this is all we had.  Brandon and I got to work with these and another set of pliers I had brought.  After 30 minutes of trying to un-bend the damn wire ties, we decided to see if the small multi tool would be able to cut the ties with its rather small wire cutting jaws. (in the plier portion of the tool)

Brandon cranked down hard on the wire tie with the multi tool and ..SNAP..the tie was cut!  Nice!!  Now it took ALOT of pressure/force to accomplish this, but within an hour or so, we were able to cut the required number of ties to open the gate!!!  Freeeeeedom!!!!!

Man it felt good to get to the other side of that stupid gate!!

Looking back thru the gate...see how dense it was?

We got our bikes through and then got to work securing the ties we had cut.  We needed to do this, as it looked like a cattle ranch.  (we saw a few old cow skulls gleaming white in the sun along the now dried up creek bed we had been following down)  With the gate secured, we head off on a road that we assume will wind around to a ranch house at some point!

After riding about a half mile or so, I am able to look off to my right and see the tell tale "green vegetation and trees" that usually mark a ranch/farm house.  We stop for a moment, looking down at the house and the road in front of it that will take us to our proper route/trail.

I comment on how good it feels to be rid of yesterday's hardships.  We talk briefly about being VERY nice to the rancher that will likely be angry that we are trespassing on his land!  We decide to offer to pay for the damaged fence and apologize profusely should we encounter the rancher.

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We make our way down the winding road that leads to the rancher's home/driveway.  As we approach the ranch house we pass by some barking dogs that don't seem to appreciate our being there.  We stop and get off our bikes, preparing to find the rancher to tell him about his fence.  Out steps the rancher, not looking too happy and he asks us what we are doing!?

We immediately bombard him with apologies and stories of being lost...and we will pay for his fence etc etc.  He starts to smile...and his says, "I wondered what the hell you were doing up there"?!  There is no way in except thru that back gate and it has been fenced off for more than 30 years!  We tell him we had to cut some wire ties to get through and that we had repaired them as best we could...and we offered to pay for the damage.  He tells us not to worry about it, he will have one of his guys go make sure its secure.

We relax a little and tell him our rather embarrassing story.  He laughs and tells us that that "trail has not been used in some 50 years"!  He then says..."and there is no water up there either!".  We are like..."uhhh yeah..we know!!"  We see a water hose about this time and ask him if we could get a drink. (We are completely out of water)  He tells us to have at it and we take turns drinking out of the hose the way we did 30 years ago as kids! 

The rancher shows us with a point of his finger where we came off the ridge and then points further west on the huge ridge and tells us we should have come down much further west.  From this perspective you could clearly see the towering ridge as it went westward for about a mile.  Looked prettier from the ranch house than it did yesterday!  We are able to look at the tiny green patch on the otherwise barren ridge that was the draw we had travelled down.  Seemed so clear from here!  Oh well!

We get a photo with the nice rancher and we make our way west to pickup the trail again and make our way to Ellensburg.  We were full with water but still low on fuel, but we calculated we would have just enough to make Ellensburg.  So, off we go!

We hit a dirt road and are making good time.  I feel good and am trying to figure out how much time we might need to make it to Leavensworth via the WABDR Trail.

After some time twisting and turning our way though some easy gravel roads, I suddenly see Jim and Brandon stopped in the road ahead of me.  Also on the road is a large SUV and some young people.  I wonder why Jim isn't headed down the road?!  I pull up next to them and Jim tells me that these people are doing a "Short Film" and need us to wait until they are done filming so as not to throw dust everywhere/screw up their film!  Really?  I wonder if its Steven Spielberg?!

Apparently the film is about a lifelong "distance runner" and this part of the film will be shot using a camera mounted to a remote controlled helicopter of sorts.  Sooo, we just hang out and watch for a bit as they maneuver this helicopter/camera around to get their shots of the actor.


After some time we get the go ahead and we make our way north.  For some reason, Brandon takes the lead after we determine that the dirt road we are on will become paved in a few miles and that road will literally take us into Ellensburg. 

I am behind Brandon and I see the paved road up ahead.  Brandon is making tracks!  haha..I think he wants to see civilization again!  I follow behind, not having looked back for a while.  I hit the pavement and start moving along pretty quickly.  After a bit, I stop and look back....no Jim.  I wait about 5 or 6 minutes thinking he may have stopped for something interesting etc.  Still no Jim. 

I turn back to see what's up.  We have been doing a good 45 mph for a bit, so I had to backtrack a few miles onto the dirt road, before I see Jim talking to a guy at the only house that had been on that dirt road.  Jim is at his back door talking with this guy.  I roll up and Jim tells me, "I ran out of gas"!

Normally, I would have a 30 oz bottle of fuel that would have gotten Jim to Ellensburg.  Oh I had the bottle on my bike...but I had not filled it on this trip as I had calculated we would not need it.  At that moment I realized that we had been less careful and a bit more careless on this trip...because it was in WA..our own back yard.  The lack of a map page, my not having my spare fuel can filled.  These were rookie errors that we had made in our complacency.  Ehhh lesson learned!

The nice man tells Jim he has some gas in a barn, so off they go.  A short time later we are on our way.  Jim and I haul ass into Ellensburg and find Brandon parked at a gas station/convenience store.  Seemed he wasn't worried at all!  Haha.

We all agree to fuel up, water up, get some food...and plan the day's ride etc.

We decide on Wendy's.  I cant tell you how good a salad and a burger tasted at that point...let alone the gigantic iced tea!!  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!

At about this time, Brandon tells us he is considering having his Wife come out to Leavensworth the next day to spend the day/enjoy the Condo etc...and then just ride back with her and the kids. (He has a bike carrier mounted to his SUV)  I am a bit disappointed to hear this, as we had planned this days ride and then the next day was supposed to be the ride home via some more dirt roads/trails.  On the other hand, I knew how hard the day prior had been on him, so it was not terribly surprising either.  He was still having a hard time gripping with his hands etc, as he had really beat himself up the day before.  being too tired on a motorcycle is a dangerous thing.

We discuss the possibility..but decide to get to Leavensworth first before deciding.  We also decide to skip the trail to Leavensworth to Give Brandon some time to rest up/heal, as another long trail ride today might be a bit much.

We enjoy the air conditioning and our meals and after adjusting the air pressure in our tires for the pavement, off we go!

The ride is a bit long and its a new thing for Brandon to be riding 55 mph on pavement.  He is alarmed by a couple of loud Harley's that suddenly and unexpectedly pass by him...as he was likely daydreaming to the constant drone of his 225 cc motor!

We stop a few times to take a break, and check out some scenery.  It is a pretty ride, even if it is on pavement.

After a few hours of riding together, but each in his own thoughts, we arrive in Leavensworth.  It is a "touristy" German'ish town in the mountains..a very picturesque setting as the geography is beautiful here.  (No it does not compare to the traditional German town of Frankenmuth, MI)  We make our way to the Condo that Brandon secured for us and we pull up in the parking lot anticipating a nice hot shower!  It feels good to have arrived!

We look like hell trudging up the stairs in these very clean, verrrry nice condos!!  We unload our gear...throw our dirty clothes into a washing machine and start taking turns using the shower, a hot shower after two days of dirty/sweaty, dusty riding...feels good!  heck, I even shaved! 

I cleaned out the dusty/sweaty inside of my helmet..before we took off on the bikes to grab some dinner.  We settled on a little Mexican place and enjoyed a great meal.  We talked about the days event, like we always do.  We later hit a small bar and enjoyed a beer, beer and a hard cider, respectively!  It was a warm, nice night...and there were very few people out at this point. (Week days at Leavensworth aren't terribly busy)

We sat up a while and discussed the plan for the next day.  Jim and I would head back home via motorcycle and Brandon had decided to spend the day in Leavensworth with his family/relax a bit.  That was cool...take advantage of the very nice, very FREE condo!  Flexibility on these trips is very important! 

We took a look at some of the pics we had taken today and the day prior...realizing we had taken only one photo of the nightmare in the draw!  Doh!!  The motorcycle were doing great..no issues, even after banging them up a bit.  These are some tough little mules!

It had been a fairly easy day, though the prior day still had us a bit tired.  After commenting how quiet it was and how dark the night sky was...(you could easily see the Milky Way)  we decided to called it a night and take advantage of sleeping on some real beds!! 

More to come!