Friday, June 27, 2014


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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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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 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

Georgy Girl (Live Performance, Melbourne AU)

I'll Never Find Another You

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'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 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 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 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 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 café.

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 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? 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 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 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 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 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 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” “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 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” 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 is an example for 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 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” 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 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 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 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 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.

Click Here To See Video   (Choose 720p for best results)

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 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 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 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!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Wow, Christmas already!?  The seasons seem to fly by faster with each passing year!

I have just finished setting out the presents from Santa Claus and we all enjoyed a late night "Coney Dog" Dinner...with the authentic hot dogs, buns and chili shipped straight from National Coney Island...Detroit, MI courtesy of my Dad!  Thanks for shipping it all out Dad!  Reminded me of home.

We sent out a "photo" Christmas Card (above) along with the traditional Greeting Cards this year, to Family and some extended family.  It is a bit different, in that there are no faces on the Photo Card!  Seemed it was more difficult than usual to get everyone together at the same time, in front of the Christmas tree this year!  So, I settled on the idea of simply letting folks see a bit of our home as it appears during the Christmas Season.  The decorations, the "snowman room (downstairs in the family/piano room) and the cookies are all courtesy of Sandi and her love of doing all things Christmas!

The Scan of the card wasn't up to my standards, so I have included the photos that made up the you can get a better look!  Christmas at home...and an invitation to "visit us" in our home, even though the distance precludes doing so in person!


                 We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, and a healthy and happy New Year!

Friday, December 20, 2013

WABDR Adventure Ride Day 2

Day 2

Day 2 began with us packing up our sleeping bags and tents and getting our gear properly placed back onto our bikes/bike racks. Though it’s not a terribly difficult task, I really dislike this part of each day. I would rather just leave my tent/sleeping bag behind and just ride off unencumbered by my “gear”! Oh well, 20-25 minutes later we were ready to head down the road.

The weather was nice…clear blue skies and the sun coming through the trees, though it was a bit cool. We headed east on highway 12 to connect up with our next dirt road that would move us North. At the top of White Pass, we decided to stop and get some breakfast…fill up on water and fuel up…correction…we had fueled up the night before, so no need! There was pretty much one place on White Pass to accomplish these things and it was all in one place. It is a Fuel Station, Café, Convenience Store kinda place, that everyone going East or West tends to stop at for one reason or another.

We parked the bikes and went in to get our respective necessities. For Jim this would be coffee. We grabbed something to eat, filled up on our water and sat down for a bit to contemplate the days ride. While there we observed quite a variety of people coming and going…A State Trooper was chatting with one of the gals at the counter…you could tell he was a regular, or the store was on his regular route. There were a few “granola” types…looking like they were coming or going from a nature hike. A couple of folks that came through the doors weren’t even speaking English.

I discovered that there was a very small bathroom…with an accompanying very long line. Hmmm. I really don’t like not taking a shower, or washing my face etc….before beginning my day…no matter where I am at. It doesn’t need to be a hot shower…heck, it could be (and has been) a dip in an ice cold river or lake, a cold shower, a makeshift “bath” by way of a canteen full of water…hiding behind a tree in the snow and using yesterdays t-shirt as a wash cloth….doesn’t matter what method, I just don’t feel “ready for the day” until I have cleaned up.

I saw this tiny bathroom as a big opportunity, so when the line dwindled and Jim and Brandon were enjoying a makeshift breakfast and some coffee, I entered the bathroom…which could not be locked. It had a small sink, a urinal and a toilet. I took off my shirt, grabbed some soap and as quickly as possible, I washed my hair, my face and my torso….as people came in/out of the bathroom, a few of which probably wanted to wash their hands! Sorry kids…I gots to be clean!!!!
A few minutes later, I am walking out, fresh as a daisy…with a few people in line wondering if there was a shower in that bathroom! Ha! I walk out to where Jim and Brandon are sitting and Jim says (with some jealousy I’m sure) “someone took a bath”! Yes…yes I did! A couple bottles of juice later and I am ready to hit the road!

We take off, westbound, on Highway 12. There are a couple of turnouts that offer some really nice views of Mt St Helens and at one point we turn off to get a look. As we roll up on a picnic table near the visitor viewpoint, we see a rather unusual “memorial” of sorts.

There on the picnic table is …well, you know what?...I will simply post the photo so you see the “memorial”, just as we saw it when we rolled up. Interesting to say the least!! I will leave you to your imagination.

We take off again and find our turnoff onto a dirt road, where we see a few other riders making their way north. We stop and chat with a guy and his wife, who are riding “two up” on a large adventure bike. They are here from Canada if I recall correctly?? They ask us about the trail, but since we have yet to experience it ourselves, we are unable to provide much information. They set off as we wait a bit, so that we don’t catch up with them right away. We discuss how uncomfortable we would be with all that weight…two persons, very large motorcycle etc…when trying to navigate the rough stuff. Oh well, more power to them!

We head out and are soon enjoying a rather leisurely ride/gradual hill climb. The dirt is well packed and there are smatterings of gravel but it is all pretty simple stuff as we make our way to the top of a hill that provides a beautiful and panoramic view. There are a couple of Jeeps up here and their passengers are taking in the view as well. We stop for a photo or two, and head out after the Jeeps that had just left.
 It is not long before we catch up and pass the slow moving Jeeps. We wave as we pass them and continue up another gradual hill, cresting Bethel Ridge about a mile or so up the trail. It is a great southern panoramic view. We met a few other adventure riders at this point, so we conversed a bit, had them take what I think is the only photo with all three of us in it, and we are on our way again.

The riding at this point is still pretty simple. Hard pack dirt, ruts, some chunky gravel, a few deep puddles…but nothing difficult. We enjoy the views from the ridge we ride for the next hour or so. It is perfect for Brandon, as it is just the right mix of good conditions to allow him to get some experience, but still enjoy riding.

A while later we get to the Cleman Mountain area and at this point there are a few steep hills covered in fist sized, jagged rock, about a foot deep. This stuff is never fun and the only way to really deal with it, is to attack is with some throttle! We catch up to the “two up” riders we spoke to earlier at this point. As we watch them start up this 100 yard long, rock strewn mess, we couldn’t help but think….”no way”!?!

Well, they start up the hill, and as they slowly make their way, we figure, “ehh maybe they are fine”! So Jim hammers up the hill, getting past them and I tell Brandon he is up next. I tell him that he will need to get moving and then point the bike and really get on the throttle to get up on top of/power thru and over these large rocks. I can see in his eyes, he is not terribly comfortable with this, and I don’t blame him. If you make a screw up, and slow down/stop, you are going to tip over onto the rocks…and it’s gonna Hurt!

So Brandon gets moving, but I can tell its not fast enough. He is coming up on the “two up” bike midway up the hill, who has since gotten “stuck” in the deep, jagged rocks. I think having them block part of the trail causes him to slow a bit and sure enough….ohhh, ohhhhhhh…there he goes, falling over onto the rocks. Ouch. He gets up, and tries to get moving again in the deep rocks. I forgot to tell him that if you have to start on a hill, in big, deep rocks, that it is going to be really hard! Oops! There he goes again…he’s down. Brandon finally gets moving a bit and is able to safely, though recklessly, get up to a leveled off spot at the end of this hill and the beginning of another equally challenging hill. The “two up” crew had made it to the same leveled off place, after the female passenger had dismounted the bike to allow the man to ride the large bike (barely) up the rest of the hill.

With the trail clear, I hammered the Super Sherpa up the rocky hill…getting sideways and throwing jagged rocks back down the hill at waiting riders. It wasn’t pretty, but bam…I am up the hill. We left the “two up” crew at that level spot and Brandon motored up the next stretch with a lot more vigor and was soon atop the hill looking back at the rock quarry he had just conquered. He did a great job climbing that second steep hill and I know it felt good for him. I followed him up where we met up with Jim and a couple of Jeep drivers that had the pleasure of watching the last few riders bang their way to the top. In hindsight, we should have stayed a while and videoed some folks coming up, as it would have showed the tenacity required to get up that section of the trail. Oh well, off we went…we had a lot of miles to cover.
For the next hour or two, we rode pretty much north/northeast and we cold literally feel it warm up as we headed into Eastern WA. The riding was scenic, relatively easy and very enjoyable. Brandon commented on how much he was enjoying the ride that day, as it was perfect conditions for gaining some experience. It wasn’t long before we were into Eastern WA and headed towards beautiful Umtanum Ridge. This is a large ridge that we would ride for a while enjoying the views of the valley some 2500 feet below us.

We had made good time on our ride, and as we hit Umtanum Ridge, we were really towards the end of the days ride, as once we descended, we would be riding a dirt road into Ellensburg. Umtanum had a few rather steep and rocky (More like loose gravel) sections that were 100 to 150 yards long. Now, by this time, we had ridden for several hours and had really put a strain on Brandon, who had never put in this kind of seat time, let alone in 80-90 degree weather. We knew he was a bit stressed here and there, but I think we under-estimated the impact that his “holding on for dear life” grip on the bike had over the entire day. He was tired, very tired and when you get tired on a dirt bike, you start getting sloppy, no matter how good a rider you are.

We hit a few hills, rocky but not too steep. Brandon was getting sloppy and was having a hard time literally holding onto his handlebars. His arms and shoulders were exhausted and as I followed him, I began to really notice it. We all stop and talk. We figure about 30 minutes on the ridge, up and down some hills and we would be on the easy gravel road that would lead us to Ellensburg, where we would stop for the night. We even agreed to just get a motel room so as to get a good nights rest etc. and ease tensions.

We have been simply following the GPS track on Jim’s GPS at this point. We had not needed to pull out a map or anything, as this track had been checked/double checked and updated by many adventure riders before us. We had decided after looking at the GPS when we hit a small radio tower, that we should proceed east along the ridge. That’s what the GPS said..
Brandon takes another spill as he climbs a longgggggg and rather steep hill, with loose gravel. He picks up his bike and Jim helps get him to the top of the hill, but after picking up his bike, taking the falls, and the long, hot day’s ride, it is obvious he is running on empty. I make my way up the hill and we head out…Brandon’s face is anything but happy at this point, but he soldiers on.

We have one last hill in front of us according to the GPS, and after that, it shows us descending down towards the dirt road towards Ellensburg. Jim climbs the hill, parks his bike and stands up on the hill to help guide Brandon up. I tell Brandon to take the left path up, as there are some patches of dirt that he can grab some traction on, before hitting the rocky parts of the uphill.

Brandon says “ok”. His tone betrays his exhaustion, but he points his bike up the hill and heads up. He gets about ¼ the way up, hits some loose rock and goes down. At this point, it is not even an issue of skill, he is simply just too tired. Jim walks down and advises Brandon to just walk up the hill and he will ride his bike up. Jim comes down to the bottom of the hill where I am at, slipping and sliding Brandon’s bike all the way down the sloppy gravel. He tells me the trail is “a bitch” and that it goes on for a distance greater than it appears, so keep on the throttle once I get moving.

I take off up the hill, letting the throttle do all the work, and climb to the top…passing a slow walking Brandon about halfway up. I pull next to Jim’s bike and Jim comes flying up next to me hooping and hollering! Seems he realllly likes Brandon’s bike and is having a blast screaming up the hill on it!

Click Here To See Video   (Choose 720p for best results)

 We turn to see Brandon cresting the long hill...helmet in his hand, tired...and the first word that came to mind seeing him slowly stumbling towards us was....dejected.  I took this photo of him as he crested the long hill.

I tell Jim that we really need to get off the ridge and onto some easier stuff as Brandon is spent. (Which is going to affect his riding)  He agrees and says, “according to the GPS we should be heading left and down the ridge up ahead”. Famous last words.

Jim decides to scout the route that descends off the ridge. He comes back a few minutes later and looks perplexed. According to the GPS we should be taking a left, down the hill, but it appeared to have dead-ended? We decide to ride east a bit more…and we again, dead-end at the edge of the ridge?! Now, we are not on empty at this point, but I calculate we have less than a gallon of gas each and we can’t be messing around too much looking for routes off this ridge.

Now it should be noted that Jim and I both consider ourselves expert at land navigation, map reading, terrain association and the like. Jim is a member of our Search and Rescue Team and I spent 12 years in the Army doing land navigation and reading maps routinely. We are both familiar with old school map reading, back-azimuths, route planning and everything to do with finding one’s way in unfamiliar terrain/geography.
The only map page that we do not have, is the page that covers this particular area, and we are using a GPS that does not appear to be “updating” or working correctly on this ridge! Jim turns the GPS off and on, resetting it. It simply keeps telling us to head North off the ridge. Hmm, I scout the trail that seems most likely to be correct. I travel about 2 miles on this trail and it descends in a Northerly direction consistent with what I expect would get us where we need to be. I head back up the trail and tell Jim and Brandon, it looks as good as any other trail heading North….so we head out.
About 2 miles down the very well established dirt road/trail…we hit a dead end. It simply stops. Brandon is very unhappy at this point, as he was physically done about an hour ago. We decide we need to get back to a known position (top of the ridge) and get our bearings before committing to another trail.

Well, the ride back up to the ridge is rocky, loose and a bit challenging. Brandon is so tired he stubbornly rides with almost reckless abandonment…and actually rides better! We backtrack on the ridge and then turn back East to again, follow the little line on the GPS that has the pre-loaded track for this ride. We head out and the GPS tells us to go left, down the ridge, very near where we had just tried.

It is smoking hot, we are tired, Brandon is whatever comes after dead-tired and we are getting low on water and fuel. We are also a good hour or two behind schedule and we will lose the sun in about 2 hours. I do not even remember how much time we wasted on that ridge…but it was at least a couple hours of riding here, turning back…going down hill, coming back up the hill. Here is the kicker…we are in Eastern WA! I mean, I can literally see 40 miles in damn near every direction! I can see a small town below us to the South, I can see 30 miles to the East…I believe I can actually see the main road a few miles to the North of us, that we will need to use to move NE to Ellensburg! We are not lost, we just cant get to where we need to go! It is sooooooooooooo frustrating!

At one point, we see a sign that tells us it is illegal to go further East on the ridge. We seriously consider disregarding this and blazing a trail off the end of the damn ridge! But, we decide against it. We finally decide to trust/follow what the GPS says. We take the nearest trail North off Umtanum Ridge, and we all agree we will need to commit to this trail as we won’t have the fuel, or time to screw around looking for an alternate trail.

I am sure Jim was as frustrated as I was, trying to figure out what we had done wrong…though this “trusting the GPS” thing is something neither of us liked. In fact the same GPS unit had thrown us for a loop or two on our previous TAT Ride.

We headed down and off Umtanum Ridge, and followed the trail for a mile or two as it became more and more “primitive”. Bad sign, as this trail should be very well travelled. It isn’t too long before we run into a roadblock…literally. Blocking Jim’s way is a very large tree fall traversing the entire trail. Unbelievable. That was not the word(s) that we used to describe our feelings at this point, but I try to keep these posts G rated. Brandon is ready to explode…I see it in his face, but he keeps it in.

We look around, and we can see we are entering a “draw” that is following a dried up creek . (A “draw” is simply the downhill low spot, bordered by a steep hill on either side…with both slanting downhill) It is going the right direction and we are losing elevation, so we simply commit to moving forward. We drag our 300 lb. motorcycles up and over some large tree’s/logs, then under another one. Given how hot and tired we are, this required a bit more energy than I care to admit. We mount up and ride slowly along the dry creek bed, hoping we don’t run into any more dead-fall. Another ¼ mile down the trail…yep, another dead-fall (trees that are mostly dead that have fallen)

Well, we are committed come hell or high water, so we half drag, half throttle the bikes over this latest obstacle. Another ¼ mile…another dead-fall. It is kicking or butts. At one point Jim has to wheelie his bike over a couple logs, after we drag the bikes under some more deadfall. He then has to wheelie Brandon’s bike up and over. I decide to sloppily wheelie mine to save Jim the trouble.

Hope that is the last freaking dead-fall….1/2 mile further…an even bigger dead-fall. Huge trees completely blocking the trail. we literally are laying our loaded motorcycle on their sides and squeezing them between the ground and the trees, dragging them across the ground for 10-15 feet at a time. It is so tiring and so ridiculous, it is almost funny! This is the only photo I took of our tedious journey down that draw...until we would stop for the night.  The look on Jim's face is a good representation of how tired we all felt. 

We continue along the trail and this goes on for another hour or so. It is grueling. It is starting to get dark and I keep wondering if we could just motor up the very steep sides of the ridges on either side of us. I ask Jim about it, and we agree, it would be a last resort, as someone might get hurt trying to escape in this manner, as the ridges are very, very steep. If someone fell, the rider and bike would tumble right back into the “draw” we are in.

By this time we are not even starting the bikes up; we simply let gravity pull us down the draw until the next dead-fall, saving gas. We are all out of water at this point and we are all sweating like crazy as we push, pull and try to ride our bikes under, over and across these damn fallen trees. We are all a bit dehydrated. The mood is less than joyful.

A bit further down the trail (we are making or own trail at this point, moving thru saplings and overgrowth) we hear the slightest trickle of water. We look off to our left and sure enough there is a tiny little stream…not even a stream. (It looked like someone had not completely shut the water off in a front yard hose) We decide to filter some of this water and drink/load up, even though it was going to take up more time. Jim gets the filter system out (brought it as a back up) and we start to fill up our respective camel packs. About 30 ounces in, the filter stops working. Are you kidding?!! We spent 20 minutes trying to fix it/figure it luck.  It is a stupidly simple siphon system…I don’t know how it could possibly not work!?!?

Brandon says he is done for the night. He will camp right where we stand. Jim says it would probably be a good idea to bed down in place for the night. I am not ready to do that. I hate not completing a plan and I was certain we could get out of this if we pushed on. I really wanted to continue, but when you are with a group, you have to consider the groups perspective/ideas. We grabbed some water and decided to simply boil it to use for our dehydrated meals. I had brought Iodine as a back up…to the back up, but it would be quicker to just sanitize the water by boiling it.

I wanted to see if we were close to getting out of this “draw” we were in, so I grabbed my flashlight (it was dark by now) and headed off to see what would be in front of us. As I walked, I ran into a few smaller trees across the trail, but there was room in each case to ride under or around these trees. about a mile later, it cleared up significantly, with just some scattered saplings and thick weeds in the “draw”. I was tired and not having seen an actually “end” to this “trail”, I turned back and reported my findings. If nothing else, it was good to know that we would not be facing the same type of large dead-fall that we had dealt with the past couple of hours.

As Brandon fired up his revolutionary (and admittedly cool) cook stove, that uses anything for fuel (sticks, leaves, wood whatever) and uses heat to actually move an induction fan to act as a bellows....I could not help but wonder how the hell we are lost in the most wide open part of the damn state!!?? It is terribly frustrating and a blow to one's ego. I mean, this is basic stuff!!! It was humbling to admit that we had navigated ourselves into such a silly situation. It reminded me of a couple TV shows I had seen where one or two tiny mistakes, led to someone being seriously lost, or dehydrated or injured etc. We were far from that kind of thing, but this was sobering...and embarrassing!

Oh well, deal with it in the morning. The one thing that we were not, was unprepared. We would toss up our tents, throw our sleeping bags in, and then boil up some water and get some food into our belly's. While the fire was being started, Jim, who had a splitting headache/wasn't feeling too good, lay down for a bit. I sat next to Brandon, staring at his hi-tech cook stove/fire maker! We had given him a lot of crap for buying this fancy shmancy thing, but I admitted right there and then that it was very nice to have. A fire of any kind/size, just seems to take the edge off at the end of a challenging day.
I moved to get up and wham....right quadriceps cramps up. I groan like a lame old man, and try to relax and sit back down to alleviate the pain. Hmmm, appears we are all suffering a bit from some mild dehydration. The whole situation is ridiculous, and admittedly a bit funny. Brandon an I chuckle about how stupid it is to be sitting in a ravine, hopelessly lost...while civilization is a mile or so away!

We get some food in us, and coax Jim out of his tent. He still feels like crap, likely just dehydrated, as I think he did the most work in helping get the bikes over and under stuff...and a couple times riding all three bikes around the toughest obstacles. We convince him to get some food down, and within the hour he is back to normal.

It is a beautiful night, and we sit around and talk about the days ride, but mostly about the last few hours. We talk about how if Brandon had brought a gun on this trip (He usually does)...that Jim and I would likely have been left for dead some miles back!  We talk about the fact that we must be close to getting out of draw we are in. We talk about people finding us dead 30 years from now...while they are hiking around. It's a light hearted discussion, even though an hour or two before we were all pissed about one thing or another.

It was relatively early so we sat up a good while before retreating to our tents. At this point, the days ride was at an end and we had re-hydrated and were setup for a decent nights sleep. Heck, tomorrow would be a new day, we will figure it out in the morning.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ...I wake up about..ohhh 2 am or so...need to relieve myself. I grab my tiny flashlight and I swear I hear something. Is that someone talking??? Hmmm, I listen....nothing. I stumble out of my tent into the pitch black darkness thinking maybe I heard an animal or something, as there were game trails all over the area we are in. I listen....still nothing.

I walk a few yards away, and I hear Brandon start to yell!  I am thinking, “what the hell”?? I shine my flashlight over at his hammock, which is easy to see as it is exposed and simply tied off to two trees some 10 yards away. His hammock is moving and I start to wonder if there was an animal, maybe a deer or something over by his hammock. Brandon starts to thrash around, yelling and mumbling like he is literally fighting with someone or something...but I dont see anything around him, nothing!

A few moments later, all is quiet. Bad dream? I don’t know, but he scared the hell out of me! I forgot I had to pee! I finish my business and I go back to my tent. I think Jim says something to me, after hearing the commotion. I tell him, I think Brandon was dreaming or something. Who knows. As I crawl back into my warm sleeping bag, I can't help but laugh..what a weird and crazy day it had been!

Tomorrow will bring some answers and some revelations, but it is lights out for this longgggggg day. More to come.