Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Que bueno!

Already at the departure gate in Houston, the preferred language has become Spanish, as though we have already left America. It's too crowded, people have too many bags, and everyone is talking too loudly. It feels like we are there already, except of course until the moment I cross the threshold into the 737 I can still turn around and back out. But I'm no longer nervous about arrivals the way I used to be. My early travel experiences were all in Africa, when deplaning into a foreign customs could be a big, scary deal. Not so any more.


(And here we are, on the Corredor Sur, the city looming.)


I know this flight pattern pretty well now. The plane flies over Galveston Island -- sometimes right over the house my parents used to have on Indian Beach -- and then makes away across the Gulf of Mexico -- sparkling blue from 33,000. We cross the Yucatan near Merida, and cross it again south of Cancun. More ocean, then the Rio Segovia marking the junction of Honduras and Nicaragua, and spilling a huge amount of sediment into the sea. Then ocean again, until I see thunderheads on the horizon and we descend, quickly crossing Colon, the canal, the wing dipping over Puente de las Americas, ocean again, and Panama City, wide and impossibly dense and skyscraper filled. Immigration is a smile and three stamps, customs is cursory, and suddenly we are on the curb, wondering which taxi to take.


(Yes, that is a freeway which now encircles Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. They killed it.)


(Here's a lesson for everyone: learn a few words so you can, uh, chat with the locals.)

Laura and I went to Panama about 10 years ago. Man, has it changed. High end hotels shadow the lumpy streets, and cars are newer and fancier than what you see in most of the U.S. The buses are new and air conditioned and much more more boring than before, and the squares of even small towns have free wi-fi.


(Los Santos)


(Los Santos)


(So we decided to get Cooper's hair cut. The barber used clippers and then told me "Tell him not to move." It's a blurry picture, but yeah, that's a razor.)

Anyway, Panama remains attractive today for many of the same reasons we found it attractive before: it's fun, loose, simple, safe, easy to get around, and the Spanish is spoken with a flat, slow accent.


(Wild beaches on the Azuero Peninsula.)


(Black Friday in Playa Venao.)


(We found these things all over. Boy, is he going to be pissed when he learns that for a simple quarter they shake up and down.)


(Playa Venao)



(Pit stop after hiking near El Valle. This was the next-to-last full day and I was already nostalgic for the trip.)


(I can work the system pretty well. We payed $58 for a four-star hotel in Panama City.)

When you just have a week, and you already live at the end of the line (life in Missoula), where you go on vacation depends to a large extent on where you can get easily. El Salvador is easy, but too dangerous. Same for Honduras. I have mixed feelings about Guatemala after a semi-traumatic trip there years ago, and Belize and Costa Rica are simply too boring. What's next? Colombia?)


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Terra nullius

Well, it's almost winter, so we're growing our hair out.


So many places to see, and so few weekends with good weather to get to them. After wondering for a few seasons about a place on the edge of the Big Hole called Mussigbrod, we spent the weekend there. How was it? So-so.



After thousands and thousands of miles, we are close to retiring the Chariot. Cooper is now bike commuting to day care, and in September was knighted the city's bike commuter of the week.


He won an ice cream cone for his efforts.

Another fill-in-the-gap spot: Fishtrap -- the Montana one. Dozens more spots like this.


Noah and Ginny and son came up with us for a remarkably quiet weekend.


Look at the map and pick a spot. Here's Cabin Lake.


One last evening bike ride.


This summer and fall we continued our quest to bike the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route through Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia, and in three weekends I knocked out a big stretch, including Elk Lake to Banff. I've now done about one-third of the Montana and Canada portion of the route -- but more than that in a way, actually, since I don't use a shuttle but instead bike each part in each direction. I'd like to write more about this great trail some day but for now here's a few photos.

The Morrell-Clearwater Divide:


Medicine Lodge:



Looking across to Fleecer:


Back home, catching up on some reading.


This was the first photo I took of Patrick Carter's crash. I had just locked my bike up at Missoula International Airport when I heard an oddly loud plane take off. I looked up to see his yellow biplane launch nearly straight up, then go silent as it hit its apogee and turned toward earth. For a moment I thought it was going to hit me, but the crash took place about 50 yards away.


I ran over to the site, but there was nothing to do to help. There was not a part of the plane that was not on fire. Later, I sent the photo the Missoulian and talked to Kathryn Haake. Carter was of renown in a way I did not completely understand, but I wound up talking to media outlets in Alabama and New York about his passing and the better-composed photos taken after that one above were published sort of widely. Someone suggested that I should have sold the photos instead of give them away, but it did not seem right to make money off someone's fiery death.

Galveston. Kind of unreal that we could go swimming in mid-October, but I guess I'd forgotten how things go in Texas.


Brazos Bend: not as natural as it looks.







The ever-present need to keep the closets clean.


Friday, September 18, 2015

From far enough away, everything sounds like the ocean.

A chilly evening in the Big Hole -- a consolation prize after being mudded out of our cabin in the Snowcrest Mountains.


A "ghost house" on the way to Moose Meadows. No moose, no ghosts.


Epic landscapes in the Cabinets. What a great and underappreciated range of mountains.



We drove to Portland, where a car was waiting for us.


A last-minute trip to the coast. It brings back a lot of memories from my trips there as a kid. I wonder what Cooper will remember. (Click on this photo to open it.)


Incredible secret beach.


Trail leading to another.


Old growth forest -- where I learned that "old growth" just means it hasn't been cut in 200 years. That's lame.


Killing it on the Great Divide.


Killing it in the Prius.


Killing it in the Extreme Buick.


Just your basic average every day Labor Day Weekend snowstorm.


Branham Lakes.


Tobacco Roots.


Dedicated wine glasses are for glampers.


The Hour of Magical Light along the Madison.




Took a two-day 150-mile mountain bike ride from Elk Lakes Provincial Park to Banff and back. It's not a super-tough endeavor, but there's one caveat: the six-mile stretch of trail between Elk Lakes and Kananaskis Country Provincial Park circumvents a 200-mile drive, meaning if something goes wrong, you can't just stick out your thumb and get a lift home.

Pretty country, though.


Somehow I got my mileage count off and the first day was 20 miles longer than I had planned. I would have stopped and camped at Spray Lake (the camp host flagged me down, actually, and offered moose sausage) but I had already spent a considerable sum to reserve a spot in Banff. Banff, as expected, was a tangle of tourists and outrageously-priced restaurants. I fell asleep to whistling wind and woke to the cute pitter patter of what I hoped were pine needles hitting the tent. It wasn't. By the time I was packed up and downtown it was pouring rain and 43 degrees. I got wifi from Starbucks and the radar showed showers extending as far west as Golden, so pedal in the rain it was. As a consolation, Mountain Hardware's $75 rain jacket really does work pretty well.


So a full day in the rain, with just enough dry breaks to take a few photos.


Yeah, it's fall for sure.