Sunday
Nov072010

Dolls as Models - Part I 

Why are Barbie and Ken in 28 Days Across America, and what's up with an adult male playing with dolls?  I can answer the first question, but don't yet have an answer I'm comfortable with for the second…

The book is primarily a book of words - photographs or illustrations would play a supporting role.  Honestly, the text doesn't stand on its own, so the book needed pictures.

Printing a book on text paper is significantly less expensive than using photo-quality paper, so for the book to be reasonably priced, it needed to be text paper.  Photographs don't render very well on this type of paper - in this case, 60-pound cream-colored text paper, per the publisher - so something more in the line of an illustration seemed appropriate.

Every couple of years, my brother gives me a vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle toy as a Christmas present.  Playing with one, as I occasionally do, I was struck with the idea to pair a motorcycle model with a toy character - a caricature of the author - to illustrate scenes from the book.  Sounds simple, but as with most things I undertake, I grossly underestimate the complexity, effort and time involved.  This delays the publication of the book for three months, as if I needed another self-inflicted obstacle to completing the damned thing.

Toy motorcycle in hand, I'm off to Toys R Us in Salinas, California, to shop for my grand-daughter.  At least that's my story - I don't have a grand-daughter.  Grazing the action-hero aisle with other pre-schoolers, I'm not connecting with the characters.  Hulk Hogan, Ironman, Superman…they're not really me, and they're too small for my toy motorcycle, anyway.  Innocently, I wander into the Barbie aisle.  I'd rather be looking at Craftsman tools; there's a Sears across the mall.  Ok, now I know why Barbie generates more than a billion US dollars - not that US dollars are worth much now - a year for Mattel.  Yawn...

Suddenly my eyes get really big: it's the Harley-Davidson Motorcycles Barbie and Ken Giftset.  The box - there's no motorcycle inside - reads:  "The adventure begins.  Harley-Davidson takes Barbie and Ken on the ride of a lifetime.  The wide open road, rushing winds, brilliant sunsets: mile after mile, the legend rolls on."  Hey, that's my book!  Barbie and Ken are wearing biker gear; Ken even has a Harley-Davidson shirt.  How friggin' cool.  If only I didn't have to stand in line holding a Barbie doll at the cash register.  'Reminds me of buying tampons at the corner market at midnight.

Three of us line up to buy Barbies. I'm the only male, looking stern and disinterested, which hopefully dissuades any questions from my line mates.  'Mommy, why is that grown man buying a Barbie doll?'  I get home, mildly pleased with my purchase, though now I need to find a Barbie-scale motorcycle for Barbie and Ken to ride.  My problems are just beginning.

Friday
Oct292010

28 Days Across America - Book Launch!

Launch, not lunch.  28 Days Across America - non-fiction book @ a solo motorcycle adventure around the U.S. and Canada - has just published!  Click Preview / Purchase in right column to read the first 25 pages.

So, what's in it for you if you make this book your own?

  • If you've never taken a cross-country motorcycle ride - you'll discover what happens to you when you ride across a continent.

  • If you've ever wanted to take your job and shove it - you'll see what runs through your head before and after you've exited a reasonable-paying career. (Well, maybe not, but I'll be happy to cover this topic in a later posting).

  • If you've ever wanted to say: 'Hey, I know this author…'

  • If you're related to me - you'll find out if I've written anything to disparage the family name.

  • If you know me well - you'll discover things about the adventure that I've never mentioned to you.

  • If we're acquaintances - you'll learn if it's worth getting to know me better, without risking [additional] face-time.

  • If you've ever lived in Longview, Washington - you'll find out if my experiences and recollections match yours.

Why follow the herd, reaching for a best-selling book with millions in circulation, when you can be one of the few, a trendsetter that owns one or more copies of 28 Days Across America?

P.S. To my friends in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, European Union, Brazil, Iceland…the publisher ships to your home, and maybe to some friends of yours who live in other countries too.

P.P.S.  Breathe easy - the publisher does not report on who purchases books, so I won't know if you've purchased a book, or not, and I won't ask you if you have.

Thursday
Jan282010

Volunteering for the 2010 Winter Olympics

Prepping for the 2010 Winter Olympics

No, not that kind of prep - I'm not competitive at Speed Skating or Ski Jumping, though with enough beer, I might make the podium for Curling - prepping to spend a month away from home in the snow, in a neighboring country.  Work application, lodging, travel, re-scheduling other activities for before or after the Olympics, answering 'why' and 'how' questions @ my decision to volunteer for the 2010 Winter Olympics. 

So why?  Thought it would be fun, and a life-enriching experience.  Plus, I'd never attended an Olympics in person; what better way to experience it than from the inside?

What's on my mind as I prepare to leave for Whistler…will the Canada Border Services Agency let me in to Canada without license plates…how crazy will traffic be in Vancouver…what if the cat I'll be taking care of keels over, considering she's 14 years old and never been away from her owners for more than a week…what if I throw up when cleaning the litter box…what if the house sucks…what if my housemate is a nightmare…what if there isn't reasonable bus service to Whistler…what if the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games lost my work application…what'll I be doing once I report to work…that's just the background stuff; in the foreground, I'm just psyched to connect with the Olympics.

Day 1  Winter Olympics 

Planned to leave tomorrow, but wrapped up everything by lunchtime today, so I'm off.  It's sunny.  Stop for a Double-Meat at In-N-Out, which is reason enough to visit California if you don't live here.  Parked, eating in my car, a dozen birds land and scurry around on the hood of my new vehicle, those sharp feet can't be good for the paint.  Northbound, one rest stop, then a fuel stop at Shasta City, I stock up on water and peanut M&M's.  I'm digging the satellite radio - my last car didn't have any kind of radio, so I've made a quantum leap in mobile sound reproduction.  Arrive Portland, wolf down a midnight Grand Slam at Denny's next to my hotel.  Hit the pillow, have to wait a bit for the sugar from the M&M's and pancakes to process, then a reasonable nights sleep, except that… 

Day 2 Winter Olympics

…I'm ambushed by the alarm clock - set by a previous patron - at 6:00am.  Bacon and eggs next door at Denny's, trying to tune out the cell phone conversation in the next booth - God, if my life ever becomes that boring, just shoot me.  Overcast, short drive to Seattle.

Day 3 Winter Olympics

Visit the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field - an incredible place to hang out, especially since they added the Personal Courage Wing with World War I & II aircraft, situated in period sets - with my brother, have dinner with my sister (in town visiting her daughter), my niece and her husband, then we meet up with a couple of my niece's cougar friends (they're funny and nice) for drinks.  My sister and I talk late into the night, great to catch up, as we barely had time to speak at Christmas.  

Day 4 Winter Olympics

Partly cloudy, fill up on diesel, incredibly, there's no wait at the border crossing.  The border guard asks me why I don't have any license plates, lets me pass.  Head north on Granville St, play russian roulette in the left lane with cars whom I hope don't turn left - if you've driven into Vancouver from the south, you know what I'm referring to - surprisingly, there's little traffic downtown, and I'm through Stanley Park, over the Lion's Gate Bridge, through West Vancouver and northbound on the Sea to Sky Hwy towards Squamish, the town where I'm staying.  Squamish sits between Vancouver and Whistler, mid-point for the Olympic venues.  I arrive early, the woman who will let me into the house isn't available, so some fine dining at A&W, return, catch a nap in the car, she shows later in the evening, we search for Minni, the cat, find her hiding place under the bed in the guest bedroom.  All I can see are glowing demon eyes, apparently she's not pleased with having a new housemate.  The house is very nice, and the owners the most pleasant people you'd ever want to Skype with, but…no open windows + 80F inside + cat + litter box + throw-up…I'm gagging.  The owners left me a personalized notebook with instructions, and a bottle of wine - which was thoughtful - but no odor control.  Head to bed, no sign of Minni.

Day 5 Winter Olympics

Rain.  I'm up, find a hardware store, purchase two plug-in-the-wall air fresheners, a futile attempt to manage air quality; the house now smells like artificial air freshener + stale kitty.  The Adventure Center recommended a gymnasium that I could join, though they didn't tell me it was gender-specific, realized I wasn't the right gender when I showed up, I was willing, they weren't.  Find a modest gym that caters to both sexes, I actually thought I'd be working out between volunteer shifts!  Liquor store, then home, discovered two new drinks that shouldn't be consumed in the same evening.

Day 6 Winter Olympics

Minni is ringing the bell - perhaps it's more of a rattle - on her collar, outside my door at 5:00am, and talking to me, but not in meows, more of a stutter of vowels…eee…aaa…uhuhuh…elderly, perhaps she can't meow like she used to.  Still skittish when I approach, at least she now sleeps in the open.  Rain!  Whistler has snow, but lower-elevation Cypress, where Snowboard, Alpine and Freestyle Skiing take place, may have to truck in snow.  Lots to do today - pick-up accreditation and uniform in Vancouver, visit friends in same city, clean up the house for the housemate, whom I'll pick up tomorrow at the airport.  She's from Kobe, Japan, currently living in Ontario, also a volunteer.  Before I depart for Vancouver, kitty diarrhea in the guest bedroom…  Nature's Miracle, yes, would also be a miracle if Minni would use the litter box, and nowhere else.  Accreditation and uniform fitting are well-organized, set in the sporting venue where Ice Skating will be held.  Verbal check-in at front door, sort into line for official check-in with passport, get papers, follow red stripe to next room, photographed (no smiling allowed, seriously), badge produced, follow blue stripe to uniform check-in, follow grey stripe to waiting area for uniform fitting room, take a #, watch bass fishing on a plasma display (I'm not kidding), escorted to the fitting area, take men's large in everything except the pants, which are too big, so I get fitted with a women's pants, I'm embarrassed.  The fitter says they're not cut any different, just smaller waist size - right - hands me a sheet with my garment size, no stripe to follow, manage to find my way through the temporary maze, reminds me of Halloween haunted houses as a kid, get uniform, have everything verified at check-out, then out the door, elapsed time 40 minutes, and everyone was incredibly nice.  Drive up the Sea to Sky, where two lanes have been subdivided into three lanes in places, making for narrow lanes and shoulder driving, which is fun at night - no street lamps - particularly when it's raining.  At home, try on my wardrobe - a giant Smurf.  Minni has missed the litter box again - shit!  Can I type that?  She approaches me, the first time, shows me where she likes to be scratched; around her large ears, under the chin, collar.  She has huge eyes, huge ears, narrow face, looks a bit more like a creature of the wild than a domesticate.  Her purr is something akin to an inline-four with clogged idle jets.  I can tell we'll get along, even though I'm less-than-thrilled with poop duty.   Watch two movies - don't remember what they were - into the wee hours, I don't have a TV at home, so this was special.

Day 7 Winter Olympics

At the gym again, but I'm too sore to do anything but aerobic sprints.  Besides, the really attractive blonde woman who was stretching in front of me yesterday isn't here.  Drive to Vancouver to pick up complimentary ticket for opening ceremony dress rehearsal, should've driven around the block before parking…several blocks of people dressed in Wave blue, the color of volunteers…I'm not going to join them, so back to my small and expensive parking space.  Stop off at the accreditation and uniform center and purchase an official Olympic backpack, which I immediately regret, it's a bit too feminine for me to use.  Off to airport, pick up housemate, back to accreditation and uniform center for her to wander through the temporary walls.  So thoughtful, give her my Olympic backpack, explain that I purchased it for her as a gift for subletting a room from me.  Back through dark and rain to Squamish, stop at a sushi bar, an hour wait, watch her closely to grok sushi etiquette - she's from Japan! - learn to make an origami-like chopsticks stand - can't remember the Japanese name - out of the chopsticks wrapper, very cool.  With a new housemate, Minni's in hiding, under new housemate's bed, hope the cat doesn't make a mess during the night. 

Day 8 Winter Olympics

Grocery shopping, stop at The Adventure Center for guidance to local activities; right behind where we're staying is the Stawamus Chief granite dome, I'm warned that it's a really steep hike.  I head off to photograph scenic Shannon Falls, which is just down the road from the Chief.  Was raining, now the sun's out, hmmm, there's a side trail linking up with the Chief trail, I'll check it out.  Sign says 550m vertical rise over 2.5km hike, that works out to…steep.  I'm wearing a t-shirt, worn-out Chuck's with soul but no soles, carrying full-size camera with lens, nothing waterproof, if it starts raining again.  So I'll just hike a little bit…part-way up, my phone rings, someone from eBay wants to recommend ways I can save $$ with future listings.  I keep climbing, some places are so steep, there are ladders, and up on the granite face, chains imbedded in the rock so you can scale the walls like Batman.  I've no food, no water, no brains.  Beautiful on top, though a bit cold.  The trip down was treacherous - it's often like that, isn't it? - and I was regretting that I didn't think to bring the trekking poles I purchased in Seattle on the way up - they would've taken a bit of the strain off my knees going down.  Anyway, survived, get to the parking lot - the one with the sign that says thieves work this lot day and night - to find some guy looking in my car window, but he ends being an Olympic volunteer from Ottawa, and not a thief.  Back home to a dinner of water, wine and Ritz Crackers.  Music and flashing lights pour in from the street, run outside, the Olympic Torch Relay is coming up the street, cool!  Run back in, grab camera, return in time to snap a few photos in the dark as the gentleman carrying the Olympic torch slowly walks by…I thought they ran with the torch.

Day 9 Winter Olympics

First day on shift, set my alarm for 5:00am, housemate set hers for 4:00am, which I heard, including the four snooze cycles…I'm up.  We're dressed in matching Wave blue Smurf uniforms.  Dark and raining, walk to local bus, which drops us off at Wal-Mart, where we catch staff bus to Whistler.  About an hour later, arrive at Whistler Olympic Park in Kavanagh Valley, approximately 30 minutes away from Whistler Village and Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.  Walk through security, check-in, get meal ticket, take 10-minute bus to Biathlon venue.  It's 7:00am, I'm 90 minutes early for today's shift.   One of the media managers shows up - from England - she's very nice, gives me a tour of the facility.  Venue photo manager and supervisor - my bosses - show up, along with some of the other volunteers - ages 20 - 75 - I'll work with over the coming weeks.  The Olympic Torch Relay stops at the Biathlon stadium, set up for photographer access, sneak a few photos with my point-and-shoot.  No restrooms or running water yet, just honey buckets, work those thigh muscles, a bit tougher on women :-)  It's cold outside, the media center is like a sauna.  Bit of overload the first day, learning about everyone, how the media center will work, setting up photo positions on the course, showing the course photo positions to photographers, weaving amongst athletes in training, negotiating with broadcast for space, defining what photographers can and can't do.  Set up photographer lockers in media center.  Photo manager swears a lot, but a good guy, has photographed seven Olympics.  Lunch is good, particularly the soup.  Scottie, from Vancouver, is setting up kitchen equipment in the cafeterias, explains how the food thing works at the Olympics, which is really interesting, ask me if you want to know.  Was concerned what lunch would be, given that Coca-Cola and McDonald's are sponsors…fortunately, no Ronaldor Hamburglar in the mess tent.  My ski pants are dropping down, like plumber's pants, need to buy a belt.  Night, bus from Whistler was full, talked with a couple from Winnipeg, very nice, they drive skidoos (snowmobiles, my American friends) at Cross Country, cool gig.  My legs are feeling yesterday's Chief descent, which I guess is ok, means I've actually exercised! 

Day 10 Winter Olympics

Up at 3:00am, the 'why' escapes me.  Beautiful day, caught the local 6:00am bus, it's COLD waiting for the 6:40am to Whistler.  Nice to arrive in Whistler while it's light, and first to use the honey buckets, whoo-hoo!  Completed some prep work in the media center, then out on the course with photographers, helping them plan their shoots for when the medal events begin.  A really tall guy from Associated Press in Argentina, we were touring the course, stadium, firing range positions, he fell through holes in the snow a few times, one time, had to dig him out - it's a bit risky for bigger people when the snow melts underneath, leaving caverns beneath the surface crust - watch your step.  There's real, dark hot chocolate in the media center today, was told after my second cup it's for the photographers, not photo staff.  Ok, I'll just walk down to the mess tent and get some there.  Thai soup for lunch today, cream of broccoli yesterday, both good.  No grey water is allowed for cooking, so soups are cooked in plastic bags in a central location, then shipped out to the venues and reheated.  Sounds unappetizing, but I think it's their secret to good soup. All utensils are biodegradable, four different types of recycling bins available for trash.  Besides soup, we get a sandwich, banana or orange or apple, granola bar or cookie, and water or, yes, you guessed it, Coca-Cola.  My new Sorrel boots are wearing on the front of my shins, hiking the courses are taking a toll.  Loosened up the laces, which helps a bit.   Watching the athletes ski to exhaustion around the circuit, up steep hills, heavy rifle on back, then show up at the firing range, completely shut down, concentrate on hitting target, then push to exhaustion again, pretty amazing, have lots of respect for the women and men who compete in Biathlon.  Wrapped up shift early today, caught the 4:30pm bus back to Squamish, home at 5:45pm, which was cool, gives me plenty of time to clean the litter box, yuck.  I'm a dog person, I like cats when other people take care of them.  Minni was mingling and friendly with both of us tonight, starved for attention.  

Day 11 Winter Olympics

Met a local woman from the provincial forestry service, she indicated that 600 army troops are patrolling the woods around Whistler, advised me that if I peed in the woods, I'd probably be on video.  Army helicopters are flying overhead.  The media center is getting busier, taking more photographers around the course today, getting lots of walking in.  Access to various points on the venue are closing up as Security prepares for spectators.  Still lots of procedures to figure out, who can shoot where, what, when.  Warmer today, snow getting a bit slushy.  6:30pm bus back to Squamish.  Tomorrow, Security is doing a sweep - inspecting everything, sniffer dogs, looking for explosives, sign of the times, I guess - so no one is allowed on venue, we all have the day off, which also backs up to the two days I already had scheduled off.  Housemate and I will go to Vancouver tomorrow, pick up our tickets to dress rehearsal, hit Granville Island, so some shopping, hang out, and sleep in!  

Day 12 Winter Olympics

Sunny with roiling white clouds, beautiful day.  Drop housemate off downtown, to pick up our tickets, I head for Granville Island.  Meet at Cat's Social House - where else? - for lunch, have awesome blackened chicken wonton soup, a meal's worth.  Musicians performing all over the island - toss $2 coin in guitar case of a really good classical guitarist - hang out at glass blower shop, shop at market, buy designer chocolates - yeah, baby -  then head back to Squamish.  Housemate lit the electric burner cover on fire, smoke and flame, odor of burning paint, which wasn't bad when compared to Minni's litter box, I then burned a pizza; is the oven temperature gauge in celsius or fahrenheit?  I guessed fahrenheit…incorrectly, apparently.

Day 13 Winter Olympics

Scheduled off day.  Hung out, went to gym, bought groceries.  Returning home, Minni's making urping sounds, I investigate, mess in the same spot in housemate's room.  Very unpleasant, almost urped myself…Nature's Miracle to the rescue.  Should I tell my housemate why her carpet is wet when she gets home?  Question for you cat owners: Do you mind littler box patrol?  What if it's not your cat?  Minni's aim isn't very good, there's usually a mess in front of the box, on the box, even in the box.  I like dogs.

Day 14 Winter Olympics

Scheduled off day.  I'm hungover, aspirin helped a little bit.  Once housemate returned from shift, drove to Vancouver to attend dress rehearsal for Opening Ceremony, awesome!  After all the warnings not to drive, that there would be heavy traffic and no parking…no traffic, parked right next to BC Place, Opening Ceremony venue, for $1.  It's raining, hard.  Opening Ceremony lasted for three and a half hours, just like the 'real' Opening Ceremony, except that there were stand-ins for the athletes, and the torch lighting wasn't included - um, it might've been a good idea to rehearse the torch lighting.  Cramped legs!  Crush of people upon exiting stadium, a bit uncomfortable as thousands of us were squished up against the fence, yippee.  Late meal at A&W back in Squamish - hey, we do everything first class.  Temperature in the house when we get home is a blistering 85F - Minni was digging it - fireplace would not respond to the remote, eventually switched it off the next day, which pushed the house into the next ice age.

Day 15 Winter Olympics

Slushy day at Whistler Olympic Park, but there's now a trailer behind the media center with toilets and running water!  Lots of photographers on venue, all day on the course and range, final preparations.  Soaked!  Slosh into a frozen house that night, remove the stonework under the fireplace to access the receiver unit, installed new batteries, we're back in business.  Note:  House heat provided by a thermostatically-controlled gas fireplace, said thermostat residing in a remote control as complex than the one that came with your home entertainment system.

Day 16 Winter Olympics

Opening day for the 2010 Winter Olympics!  Early start, up at 4:30am, volume of staff waiting for Whistler bus has tripled.  First medal event for Biathlon is tomorrow, course closed early today - usually busy with training - so caught early bus back to Squamish, watched the 'real' Opening Ceremony on TV.  Looked just like the dress rehearsal, except that I had more legroom, the actual athletes were in the parade, and there was torch lighting, including the crazy Gretzky truck ride in the rain.  Did some laundry, preparing for guest to arrive tomorrow from LA. 

Day 17 Winter Olympics

First medal event, Women's 7.5 km Sprint, Slovakia the surprise winner.  Stationed at range all day, which is kind of a cool place, as you're actually positioned in front (and just off to the side) of the number one firing lane.  Weather nice during event, though it rained afterwards.  Back to Squamish, out to dinner at the famous Shady Tree Pub with my guest.

Day 18 Winter Olympics

Scheduled day off.  We drive to Vancouver, beautiful day, hang out at Granville Island, go pub crawling in Gastown, then attend the first Medal Ceremony at BC Place, followed by a concert by Nelly Furtado.  Very cool to watch the flags of the podium winners go up, hear the national anthems for the gold medalists.  Finally, was able to carry my full-size camera, but with a short lens, and since we were seated at the far side of the venue, wasn't able to many meaningful shots.  About the camera thing:  Why am I attending the 2010 Winter Olympics, and not really taking photographs?  I'm here as volunteer photo staff, which means that I work the competitive venue in support of Olympics-accredited photographers.  Accredited photographers take the photos; staff are restricted from taking photos.  Which means staff takes photos, but covertly, with stealthy, small point-and-shoot-cameras-that-fit-in-pockets.  Almost all of my photos from the Olympics, and all of the photos taken on venue, were stealth photos...

Day 19 Winter Olympics

No medal events today for Biathlon, so I work two medal events at Cross Country, very cool, lots of photographers.  I'm on the finish line, many athletes collapse after crossing the finish line, right in front of us, some vomit, some heave like fish out of water.  After a couple of minutes though, they're up and off to face the next challenge; THE MIX ZONE - athletes must traverse a treacherous labyrinth filled with reporters and broadcast cameras who are corralled in small holding pens.  They snap, occasionally bite, further endangering the athletes…the mix zone may be more intimidating than the race itself.  Out for sushi with my guest - demonstrated new-found origami skills by fabricating chopsticks holder out of the chopsticks wrapper.  Later than evening, I'm feeling really funky, achy, no sleep, then up at 4:00am for work.  It's all fun! 

Day 20 Winter Olympics 

Women's 10 km Pursuit and men's 12.5 km Pursuit Biathlon medal events today.  Work back of the finish tower, where my job is to wrestle with photographers who want to get on the photo tower when it's already full; Aikido training served me well.  Other than full-body contact with photographers, this location is pretty cool, at least for the women's races - they congregate here right after the race, preparing to enter the mix zone, and some of them - gotta love the European women - undress right in front of me, and, well, I'm a professional, and I do enjoy my work.  My visitor attended the men's Biathlon medal event, we meet up and head towards Whistler Village to pub crawl, but I'm feeling even more strange than last evening, so it's back to Squamish.  While waiting for the local Squamish bus, my teeth start rattling, chills.  Hot shower, crawl into bed at 6:30pm, get up 13 hours later (!) after a night of alternating fever and chills.  What a fun host, I should have more visitors. 

Day 21 Winter Olympics

Scheduled day off.  Feeling better, we drive to Vancouver, tour Christ Church Cathedral, the city's oldest church, listen to some inspiring pipe organ music, also tour the Vancouver Museum.  Hang out downtown, back to Gastown for lunch, then to  the Olympic Torch, burning away behind chain link fence.  This decorative surrounding of the Olympic Torch is itself surrounded with a bit of controversy, and lucky me - just as I turned around from taking photographs  through a small viewing portal cut into the fence, a broadcast team shoves microphone and camera in my face, asking me what I think of the Olympic Torch Controversy - I'm looking for cover, there isn't any.  I'm not about to say anything disrespectful as a guest in another country.  Also, my manager's voice is in my head:  "Saw you on TV last night.  Remember that rule about staff not talking to the media?  You're fired.  I don't care that you're not being paid, you're still fired."  Made a few positive comments about how beautiful the burning torch was, ignored the negative, baiting questions, slid off to the side, abandoning my guest, now the focus of the broadcast crew.  Drop my guest off at the airport, head back up the familiar Sea to Sky to Squamish, Minni's litter box is due for a cleaning.

Day 22 Winter Olympics

4:00am wake up, perhaps three hours sleep.  Stunning day!  Women's 15 km Individual and Men's 20 km Individual Biathlon medal events, worked media center for first event, finish line for second event.  It was so nice out, I didn't wear a coat or gloves.  Yes, even without a jacket, I still look a bit like like a Smurf.  What is the volunteer uniform?  Black ski pants, (two) long sleeve 'Wave' blue t-shirts, each with a unique design, vest, ski jacket and toque (stocking cap in America) in the same blue color.  Didn't wear the toque, used my hood when cold.

Day 23 Winter Olympics

No medal events at Biathlon, worked qualifying round at Ski Jumping, sold out crowd, very cool, stationed up front at the outrun.  Politely busted by venue photo supervisor for taking close-up photo of athlete, a bit more strict than at Biathlon.  Morning was cold in the shadow of the hill, then hot once sun rose over the ski jump, beautiful.  Walked many steps up to the two ski jumps - called Normal Hill and Large Hill, on post during afternoon training, very tranquil, far above the crowds.

Day 24 Winter Olympics

Again, no medal events at Biathlon, worked Large Hill Individual Ski Jumping medal event.  Stationed at outrun again, awesome competition, gold medalist was the final skier, really exciting.  Afternoon, worked during training at Cross Country. Back in Squamish, dinner with a fellow volunteer, she drove up like myself, though she brought her dog.  On the way back from dinner, police pull me over, politely question me about my missing license plates.  Ok, I'd had a few drinks, but I was in good form, and after discussing the State of California's fiscal dilemma, the resulting delay in shipment of license plates, and why Arnold Schwarzenegger carried an Olympic torch when he wasn't a Canadian citizen, I was released on my own recognizance.  

Day 25 Winter Olympics

Incredible weather again, Women's 12.5 km Mass Start and Men's 15 km Mass Start Biathlon medal events.  Working a great course photo position, where the course comes together, view skiers going uphill on one side, skiers speeding downhill on the other side.  I've now got a raging cold, turn in early, to rest up for what's likely to be a long day tomorrow.

Day 26 Winter Olympics

Scheduled day off.  Do some local stuff, take my local bus in early afternoon, only now I discover that it takes a different route, long time until I show up at Wal-Mart, where I board a bus for Whistler Village, taking my full-size camera with a short zoom.  Arrive Whistler Village at 4:00pm, it's clear and cold.  Will be meeting up later with a local woman who shares friendship with other photographers I know.  In the meantime, stumble around in the cold, take a few photos as the light wanes.  I'm standing outside of a restaurant, huddled in front of a high-tech-gas-flame-behind-glass-heater, one of the volunteers I work with walks by, he and his buddy have been snowboarding, his buddy broke his board on the half-pipe.  Over to Starbucks for hot chocolate, but mostly just to be in a heated room.  Have dinner at the Brew House, where I'll meet my new friend later.  Walk around, amazed at how many people I recognize from the venues…I've been missing out on the party!  Back to the Brew House, link up with contact, then pub crawl, end up at Buffalo Bills Bar and Grill, dance club.  At the coat check, dozens of conical Devo hats line the hat shelf - Devo performed in Whistler Village tonight - the disembodied hats make me laugh, though the Grey Goose I've been drinking all night had lowered my 'that's funny' threshold.  It's loud, crowded, and I'm dancing with my camera strapped across my shoulder, such style.  Early the next morning, depart Buffalo Bills Bar and Grill, find my way back to the bus stop - buses run all night during the Olympics - and board for Squamish.  I'm the only person with grey hair on the bus, which I think is cool, though my thinking may be impaired.

Day 27 Winter Olympics

Whew, short night.  Women's 4x6 km Relay Biathlon medal event today.  At shift end, a few of us bus over to Whistler for drinks, to meet up later with several others from the team, as this is the last day for several of them.  Everyone has brought a change of clothes, except me; I'm still wearing Wave blue, for which I am abused the whole evening by my civvies-clad teammates.  Two Long Island Iced Teas, six Grey Goose straight up's later, I shuffle away early, my cold in full swing, leave teammates to close down Whistler Village.

Day 28 Winter Olympics

Much-needed scheduled day off.  Fall out of bed at 9:00am, voice like a frog, clean-up around house, catch up on email and social networks, all day.  Every time I sneeze or cough, Minni leaves the room.

Day 29 Winter Olympics

No medal events at Biathlon today, squatted at the Help Desk, rather than help out at medal events at Cross Country and Ski Jump, try to give my cold a break.  On the local stand-and-hold-the-bar Whistler Olympic Park bus, a really tall woman crushes me with her backpack, apparently unconcerned that the growth on her back is pressing my head against the window.  I've lost my voice, leaving me to communicate solely with hand signals and facial expressions; she figures it out.

Day 30 Winter Olympics

Men's 4x7.5 km Relay Biathlon medal event today.  It's snowing heavily, but it's soggy, everyone's soaked by noon.  Last day on shift for most of us, we each get a cool Swatch Olympics volunteer watch, congregate at the Biathlon penalty loop for a group photo.  There's a huge plastic tarp with the Olympics Inukshuk symbol, hanging down into the pit at the center of the penalty loop.  It's covered in snow, looks like fun to slide down on…so a couple of us dive down the tarp, sweeping the snow away so the photo's better, pretty soon it's a sliding free-for-all.  As we wander off to the Cross Country mess tent for a party, the Biathlon venue is already dismantling, kind of sad.  The course and firing range will remain, but the spectator stadium and other buildings will disappear.  It's also hard to say goodbye to newly-made friends, seems like we've been working together for months; well, it's been a month.  Bus back to Squamish, clean the house, preparing for my exit on Sunday morning.  Minni is meowing - if you call it that - something awful, and urping what I believe are fur balls, gross things that look like they come from another planet, plus throw-up.  So this is what it's like to own a cat?  I'm ready to hand Minni back to her loving owners.  

Day 31 Winter Olympics

My housemate is leaving a day early, which means I get to leave a day earlier than planned.  A couple loads of laundry, vacuum, one FINAL litter box cleaning, and I'm heading south, through Vancouver and back to the USA.

Day 32 Winter Olympics

Stopping in Longview, Washington, to meet up with high school friends, some of whom I've not connected with for 35 years.  This isn't a class reunion, but rather a get-together that some good friends organized.  Wonder if I'll see people I don't recognize?  It was awesome, a fantastic evening, as easy to talk and laugh with, as if I'd seen them last week.  Some had been married - to the same person - for more than 30 years, others working on their fourth marriage.  Never attended a class reunion, but I can see that they must be a blast.  Reconnecting with friends is a good thing!

Day 33 Winter Olympics

Full day drive back to Carmel, uneventful, though I'm getting re-attached to '80's rock 'n roll, having a radio in the car again is a pleasure.  Whew, lots to catch up on when you're gone for a month, and lots to reflect on from my Olympics volunteer photo staff experience.  If you have an opportunity to participate in an Olympics event, as spectator or otherwise, do so!  

2012 - Summer Olympics, London, England

2014 - Winter Olympics, Sochi, Russia

2016 - Summer Olympics, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

2018 - Winter Olympics, Annecy, France or Munich, Germany or Pyeongchang, South Korea

4 Comments

rick strange
Great stories, Rayner !  Satisfied my curiosities and broadened my feline prospective definately.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 - 07:16 PM
Julie
OMG, I was rolling!  I've had housecats (no longer) and can picture your dilemma's. What the heck is "grey water" in the soup?  Or should I be afraid to ask.  What a fabulous experience.  Thanks for sharing all the details.
Sunday, March 21, 2010 - 08:04 PM
Dan
Rayner, I really enjoyed reading about yet another one of your adventures.  For some reason I never thought you were a cat person, but it sounded like the experience was an erye opener for ya.  Have a good one and I hope to talk to you soon.
Monday, March 22, 2010 - 09:19 AM
Rayner
Poor cmu on my part; grey water isn't in the soup- at least it shouldn't be - it's the water leftover from washing dishes and other stuff.  They weren't allowed to produce grey water, i.e. wash dishes, so cooked soup in the bags, so no need to wash the cooking pots.
Thursday, March 25, 2010 - 11:54 PM
Monday
Aug312009

Canadian Rockies and West Coast Ride

Prepping for Canadian Rockies Ride

Like last year, I get to ride for a week with my brother - a real treat.  We're off to ride through parks in Idaho, Montana, Alberta and British Columbia, with a few stops to see family and friends. 

Day 1 Canadian Rockies Ride

Morning departure from Manhattan Beach for Sacramento; temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley are forecast for +100ºF, so I make a last-moment decision and veer off I-405 for a ride up the cooler US-101.  Exit east on CA-152 through Gilroy, then north on I-5 to Sacramento.  I've ridden up and down this section of California so many times that I think about things other than what I'm doing, which is, well, stupid.  The alternative route added 100 miles to the ride, but subtracted several degrees of temperature, a reasonable trade.  Stayed with friends, really nice home-cooked swordfish for dinner.  490 miles, 8.5 hours.

Day 2 Canadian Rockies Ride

An early start - work and school emptied the house - and another change in plans.  I'd intended to cut over to US-101 and CA-1 to ride up the coast, but instead blast up I-5, exit at the town of Weed - what a great name - near Mt. Shasta, riding north on scenic two-lane US-97.  In California, the posted-to-be-exceeded speed limit on US-97 is 65 mph, but drops to 55 mph once in Oregon.  What happened to Oregon?  The state used to have liberal speed limit - and other - laws, but now its becoming more restrictive.  Motor through Klamath Falls, exit west on OR-62 to Crater Lake National Park, ride the west rim of the lake, meet an elderly gentleman and his wife who used to ride Indian motorcycles - very cool.  Take OR-232 to exit the park, east on OR-138, back on US-97 for a significantly-over-the-55-mph-speed-limit ride to Bend.  Bend is a stylish city, with many traffic circles, which I like.  Dinner at a great restaurant, whose name I can't remember, my table alongside the Deschutes River.  Good riding weather all day.  499 miles, 11 hours.

Day 3 Canadian Rockies Ride

Highway access in Bend is a challenge - it takes me 20 minutes to find a northbound on-ramp to US-97.  Stop in the town of Madras, visit the pharmacy to talk with a pharmacist about…helmet itch - that dirty secret that's only talked about in biker bars and addiction support groups.  I'm rarely afflicted with it, but today is the rare day.  Perhaps this is my penance for using a bar of soap to shampoo with.  The pharmacist dissuades me from using something effective like diphenhydramine, as it causes drowsiness.  Instead, he recommends a good-tasting but totally ineffective, chewable substitute.  West on US-26, I stop and visit Clear, Frog and Trillium Lakes near Mt. Hood.  A quick stop at Timberline Lodge, where I'd skied a few times, then into Portland to stay with my sister Pam, her husband, and two cats.  Too many glasses of wine over dinner, and I initiate a discussion of politics, which is rarely wise.  It's a good thing we get along so well!  A great evening, nonethless.  179 miles, 5 hours.

Day 4 Canadian Rockies Ride

Oregon has mandatory gas pump attendants - you can't pump your own gas.  They usually make an exception for motorcyclists, though, as it can be tricky.  Case in point:  at the Shell station near my sister's home, I'm straddling the motorcycle, peering into the gas tank as I carefully meter fuel through a poorly-maintained pump handle.  With an almost-full tank, I release the pump lever - gas keeps flowing.  With a full tank, I watch, wide-eyed, as gasoline erupts out of the tank and over my head, soaking me and the motorcycle.  The gas station attendant is standing in front of the motorcycle, also wide-eyed, but immobile.  I wrench the spewing gas pump handle out of the tank, soak him and splash the recreational vehicle at the next pump, eventually pointing the gushing stream of gasoline behind me onto the driveway.  Eventually, the gas attendant runs to the gas pump and turns off the flow.  No smoking, please.  After spitting most of the gas out of my mouth, and wiping down my face with paper towels soaked in dirty windshield-cleaning fluid, I'm northbound on I-205, over the Columbia River into Washington.  Exit east on WA-502 into Battleground, where I stop and wander through a pink barn with second-hand stuff and a lot of dust, then north on WA-503 into the backcountry.  WA-503 transitions to Nf-90 along Swift Reservoir - I grew up not too far from here - then north on Nf-25 through the remote east side of Mt. St. Helens, or rather what's left [of the mountain].  There's been an outbreak of sinkholes, which makes for some excitement on blind curves.  The road briefly becomes WA-131, then I motor west on US-12 along the Cowlitz River to northbound I-5.  Heavy rush-hour traffic through Tacoma, traffic opens up near Seattle, take I-405 north along Lake Washington, then east on WA-520 to Redmond, where my brother, Gordon, lives.  Dinner with Gordon and his wife, a great evening.  379 miles, 8.5 hours.

Day 5 Canadian Rockies Ride

Gordon and I leave tomorrow on the next leg of the trip, so today is a maintenance day for me.  I visit the local Harley-Davidson dealer for a tire change - 15,000 miles on the bike, and this is my third rear tire.  At $400 in labor and material per rear tire change, this is getting expensive.  I'm also ready for a new front tire and rear brake pads, so make that $779; have a nice day.  Actually, the dealership gave great service, as they had the rare rear tire in stock - most don't carry it - and they performed the service in a couple of hours, with little notice.  My issue is with Harley-Davidson - they designed a rear wheel that requires a special tire size, a tire that's only manufactured by Dunlop, and the rubber wears twice as fast as the rear tire on my last Harley-Davidson motorcycle.  End of tirade.  A quick ride through back roads to Snoqualmie Falls to scrub in the new rubber - rain is forecast for tomorrow, and you don't want to ride on unridden tires in the rain.  Dinner with Gordon, his wife, my niece and her boyfriend, and his visiting dad and new bride.  It's great to catch up on family stuff.   

Day 6 Canadian Rockies Ride

We're dressed up like Michelin Men - it's raining.  Take backroads to I-90 then over the Cascade Range in heavy rain.  For some reason, I have to pee every hour, so numerous stops in the rain, until I'm completely drained.  Now in eastern Washington, we take WA-24 to Othello, where we stop for gas, and bathroom.  We're now in the gas station across the street - something fell off of Gordon's motorcycle, and it's being re-attached - a gentleman in a cowboy hat says this is the first time in memory that it rained during the Othello Rodeo, and he's old.  Great!  By the time we reach Washtucna, the skies have cleared, and we peel off the wet vinyl.  South on US-195, cross into Idaho, then a precipitous descent into Lewiston, where it's 15ºF warmer.  East on US-12 along the scenic Clearwater River to river-side Kooskia.  We rent a cool cabin, with a hot tub on the deck, where I sear my entire left leg - always test the water temperature with a small appendage before committing.  There's no cellular coverage, but the restaurant has wi-fi, my iPhone is connected.  393 miles, 8 hours. 

Day 7 Canadian Rockies Ride

Today is starting off drier than yesterday.  US-12 climbs up through Lolo Pass into Montana.  We pass a moose alongside the road - they're big animals.  Passing through Missoula, US-93 meanders alongside the western edge of Flathead Lake - a big lake -  and into Kalispell.  Storms brew around us all day, but we seem to be driving through a corridor of low humidity - we see rain, but none falls on us.  East on US-2, then through Glacier National Park on Going To The Sun Highway, peak at Logan Pass.  At St. Mary, north on US-89, north on rural MT-17, which transitions to AB-6 at the remote Canada - U.S. border crossing.  Through stunning Waterton Lakes National Park, it's getting dark and cold, wondering if we'll encounter a town big enough to have a hotel.  We're in luck - the town of Pincher Creek has one, and only one.  Dinner is a buffet, self-serve, though an agitated meat cutter suddenly appears when I pick up the carving knife to self-serve slice off some roast beef; it seems I cut short - sorry for the pun - his smoke break.  The barmaid rides a motorcycle, informs us the local economy is based on ranching, and farming - food and wind.  There's a large array of wind turbines north of town, across an area we'll get to ride through tomorrow.  She indicates that it's always windy, sometimes exceeding 100 mph.  I hope she's mistaken, and simply mis-calculated kph to mph.  389 miles, 10 hours.

Day 8 Canadian Rockies Ride

Wow, it's windy.  AB-6 north, mistakenly take AB-507 west, then AB-3 east, then blast up windy AB-22 to Longview, a bit of a frontier town.  AB-541 west becomes AB-40, a stunningly beautiful ride through a narrow valley between mountain ranges - it's cold, but dry, with beautiful white clouds.  An orange, plastic water bottle, suspiciously like one Gordon uses, bounces across the road in front of me.  I pull over, let the recreational vehicle I just blasted by pass me, ride back, and retrieve the water bottle from the center of the road just before a truck and trailer crushes it; the water bottle has road rash, but it's still intact.  Short ride on TC-1 west into Canmore / Banff, where we stay.  At a cool outdoor restaurant / bar in town, we meet a couple - originally from England, but now living in Red Deer, north of Calgary.  They're motorcycle fanatics and funny, we share stories and drinks for the afternoon; they should do stand-up comedy.  234 miles, 5.5 hours.

Day 9 Canadian Rockies Ride

It's morning, and 36ºF.  Layer - verb (used with object) to arrange or wear (clothing) in layers.  Starting on TC-1, take scenic AB-1A, alternate route to Lake Louise.  Walk through the Fairmont Chateau, then a steep hike up the south side of the lake.  Back on TC-1 - we skip the trip to Jasper, due to unpleasant weather forecast for the area - travel rain-free into British Columbia, through Golden, Revelstoke, Salmon Arm - do salmon have arms? - along impressive Shuswap Lake, Houseboat Capital of Canada.  Arrive in Kamloops, check in to a modest but clean motel, dine next door at a family restaurant that serves liquor.  325 miles, 9 hours. 

Day 10 Canadian Rockies Ride

TC-1 west, up and down mountain passes.  By the time we pass through Abbotsford, it's raining so hard, we can hardly see.  Stopping for gas, ride through a foot of standing water, steam pouring up from engine and exhaust, wishing for a jet-ski.  As we enter Vancouver city limits, the rain thankfully stops, we stop by and see Henry at Intermeccanica, where my car was built.  Ride through downtown Vancouver - I've always liked this city - BC-99 through Stanley Park over the Lions Gate Bridge, becomes the TC-1, then BC-99 again, also known as the Sea To Sky Highway, along beautiful Horseshoe Bay, through Squamish, then into Whistler for the evening.  Watch the western '3:10 to Yuma' - the good guy was a good guy, bad guy was a bad guy but also kind of a good guy - I liked the film.  291 miles, 8 hours.

Day 11 Canadian Rockies Ride

Sunny and cool, perfect riding weather, we head north on BC-99 towards Lilloeet, along pretty and remote Lillooet, Green, Duffey and Seton lakes.  Rounding a corner, I see Gordon's rear tire kick out a large rock, then his tires goes flat.  He's a good rider, brings the bike to a controlled stop in the narrow gravel strip along the narrow road.  Bummer.  There's no cellular phone service, I ride ahead to Lilloeet - still no cell service for my phone - find a pay phone, discuss towing options with a couple of insurance companies, then arrange for a tow.  Ride back to the scene of the crime, soon a local gentleman in an old pickup arrives.  We put Gordon's bike in the back, they head to the Harley-Davidson dealer in distant Kamloops to get a tire change, I head back to Whistler for an afternoon of leisure, including a long soak in the outdoor hot tub.  A young woman joins me, we talk about travel, her parents soon arrive - I get the wary 'why is our daughter in the hot tub with an adult male whom we don't know' look - they turn out to be very friendly, we discuss the missionary work their daughter performed in Africa.  It's now 10:00pm, Gordon still hasn't shown up - it's a long ride from Kamloops, in total darkness, on a wilderness road with frequent animal crossings - so I'm a bit concerned.  He finally shows up, saw a bear on the road during his return.  172 miles, 7 hours - double that for my brother.

Day 12 Canadian Rockies Ride

More sunny and cool, head down the mountain on BC-99 back through Vancouver - where we get lost after navigating around the main route which was closed off as a crime scene - and to the border, with a short wait time and very few words with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer.  I-5 southbound, exit south of Bellingham on WA-11, also known as Chuckanut Drive - an interesting name, with entertaining variations - a beautiful ride along Bellingham Bay.  WA-20 west and south through Whidbey Island, catch the ferry to Port Townsend, across Puget Sound.  In Port Townsend, take WA-20 to US-101 along Hood Canal to Shelton, where we stay for the evening.  The only open dining establishment was a mexican restaurant, which served good food, though we carelessly ordered both sopapillas and raspberry churros for desert, which we couldn't eat.  It's 10:00pm on a Friday evening in downtown Shelton; everyone's gone to bed but us.  277 miles, 9 hours.

Day 13 Canadian Rockies Ride

US-101 south, WA-108 west, WA-8 west, US-12 west, WA-107 west, US-101 south again - how did that happen? - into Ilwaco, where we stop for a street fair.  Continue on US-101, across the Columbia River via the long and narrow Astoria Bridge, into Astoria, Oregon - where they filmed 'Goonies' and 'Kindergarten Cop' and probably other movies - and into Seaside.  Huge traffic for a small town, we idle for 30 minutes at the few stop lights.  Then to Cannon Beach - one of my favorite small coastal towns - and south through several other small towns.  Miss the turnoff for Pacific Beach - my fault - turn around at Neskowin, find our way to the house in Pacific Beach where my niece, her husband and two boys, my nephew, my sister and her husband are staying for the weekend.  They're there for the Blowsion Surfslam / International Freeride Watercraft Association World Tour / International Jet Sports Boating Association World Cup / Motosurf Western Championship - I'm not kidding, this is what you get when you spell out all the acronyms.  Another great evening with more members of the family, and I don't bring up politics this time.  225 miles, 5.5 hours.  

Day 14 Canadian Rockies Ride

The final day Blowsion Surfslam / International Freeride Watercraft Association World Tour / International Jet Sports Boating Association World Cup / Motosurf Western Championship start-time is delayed - allegedly due to excessive partying the night before - so Gordon heads north on US-101 and I head south on US-101.  Now in Newport, the weather hasn't improved, so I head inland on US-20, then OR-34, then south on I-5, blast down the freeway, over Grant's Pass, into California, where I encounter a huge headwind until past I'm past Weed.  Arrive in Sacramento at night, just as a storm blows in.  Holiday Inn Express & Suites was really expensive!  Dinner at Carl's Junior.  593 miles, 10.5 hours.

Day 15 Canadian Rockies Ride

When you know all the gas stations, fast-food restaurants, crossroads, orchards and cows along a stretch of road, it can be pretty boring to ride.  Good weather as I head south on I-5, I make good time, better than 70 mph average, including frequent gas stops, and the extra stop under an overpass to put on rain gear as I approach the Grapevine, which is under siege from rain clouds.  The weather clears as I ride into Los Angeles, it's nice to be home.  

I count myself as incredibly fortunate to be able to head out on a motorcycle, visit family and friends, occasionally share the ride with family and friends, and just ride on my own.  I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything…

…well, maybe traveling by private jet, really big luxury yacht, orbital spacecraft, a palanquin led by beautiful women from all over the world, a luxurious balloon with a hot tub…

...but I wouldn't trade for anything else.  

Tuesday
Sep232008

Photo Trek to Maasai Mara National Reserve

Days 1,2 Kenya

Manhattan Beach to Nairobi  Midday departure on American Airlines, connect in Chicago to British Airways flight, arrived after the gate closed, though they kindly boarded me anyway.  My checked bag, the one that wasn't on the carousel at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport when I arrived, likely began its own travel itinerary in Chicago.  Interestingly - to me - when I packed yesterday, I hallucinated that my checked bag would go missing, and packed accordingly:  All camera and computer gear carry-on - lesson learned from Patagonia trip - as well as a spare tooth brush, floss, couple pairs of briefs and an extra t-shirt.  This made the next four days pleasant for me and tent-mate and truck-mates.  Another fast connection in London, then off to Nairobi.  Surprisingly, feel refreshed after 21 hours of flying and one hour of sleep, lots of iTunes and Podcasts, and a book.  Arrive Nairobi near midnight, meet up with fellow trekkers - looks like a fun group! - off to Fremont Hotel (constructed in 1904, but recently remodeled, very British Colonial).  Unpack my toothbrush and floss, set alarm to ring in four hours.  

Day 3 Kenya

Nairobi to Maasai Mara National Reserve  "Maasai" or "Masai"?  Yes.  Maasai refers to people, Masai refers to land.  Groggy with 20 minutes of sleep, up for a really wonderful breakfast - still starving from last night's involuntary fast - then off to the airport for a one-propellor flight to the Mara.  During the 15-minute truck ride from the gravel air strip to the semi-permanent, tented Mara Bush Camp, witnessed Banded Mongoose, Elephant, Impala, and mating-in-the-river Hippopotamus, incredible!  The mating thing, they're under water, but it's pretty apparent what's happening.  Greeted by really nice Maasai and Kikuyu tribesmen - no tribeswomen - shown to our tents, where I unpack my toothbrush and floss.  Wow, the tent is nice, four-poster beds, sink and toilet.  I'll explain how the shower works later.  

Grab camera gear and load up for afternoon safari on the Mara.  The vehicles are heavily modified Toyota Land Cruiser pick-ups with a pop-top cabin.  Anthony, driver for my truck, is amazingly polite and knowledgeable, and partook of my Tequila-Kahlua concoction, which was cool.  Getting our first taste of Mara wildlife, we want to stop for everything, which we do.  Elephant, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Wart Hog, numerous other animals I've forgotten to mention.  Fording rivers, stopping to "check the tires" - that's what I had to do often, first checking for carnivores, then stepping outside the truck and finding an out-of-view spot to irrigate the flora - driving all over the tundra, incredible sunset, then back to the camp.  There's no piped water to the tent, but a very polite staffer named Daniel is waiting outside with a bucket of hot water, which is poured into a high-mounted bladder, affording a brief and invigorating shower.  Tent-mate and I limited showers to a half-bucket each, though some of the ladies were known to indulge in two- and three-bucket showers.  Shampoo and liquid soap is provided in trendy glass bottles, really roughing it!  The tent has battery-powered lamps, but electricity for charging camera batteries and laptops is found in the lounge tent, adjacent to the dining tent.  Since it's now dark, must be escorted from tent to the lounge and dining tent area by an armed - they're always armed - Maasai warrior.  Animals wander through the camp at night, and the Maasai presence minimizes the chance of a guest being eaten by a Lion or trampled by a Hippopotamus.  The Maasai are armed only with a short spear and club, yet they're effective against all but two animals, hopefully those two animals wouldn't decide to graze our camp for an evening meal.  In the lounge, bartender Peter learns everyone's name, but calls me Marx instead of Rayner.  Limited selection of liquor, but there's Rum and Coke, I'm happy :-)  Plug in camera battery charger, wonderful meal served in the adjacent dining tent, conversation and photo sharing in the lounge.  Escort back to tent.  Incredible smorgasbord of sounds in the night:  Lion coughing, Hippopotamus braying, Hyena barking, various bird sounds.  It's like being in Africa...

Day 4 Kenya

Mara  Up at 5:30 am - we're up at 5:30 am everyday, except for the day we ride a balloon, when we're up at 4:30 am - greeted by hot chocolate-or-coffee and cookies on the tent porch.  Grab gear, Maasai warrior escort to the trucks, load up, out on the Mara for sunrise, which is spectacularly red, then orange.  Lioness and cubs, a large Lion pride, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Thomson's and Grant Gazelle, Leopard with cubs, Vulture, Eland, Eagle, Impala, Kudu, Elephant, Black and White Colobus (monkey), Steinbok, Wildebeest, Cheetah, Crocodile, Zebra, Hyena - is this getting boring? - and even a Gecko.  One of the other trucks saw a Dung Beetle, but I didn't, well, there are other critters to see.  Standing up in the back of the truck, an amazing-and-constantly-changing 360-degree panorama, in the distance - sun, rain, lightning, clouds, blue sky, depending where you gaze.  Late evening, surrounded by mosquito netting, sliding under the down comforter...what's in my bed?!  Ok, a hot water bottle is under the covers, nice touch on a cool evening... a warning next time, please - when you're not expecting something hot and rubbery in your bed in a tent on the Mara where animals rule, well, several crawly critters flashed through my mind before I identified it as an inanimate object.

Day 5 Kenya

Mara  Another great day.  Came across a recent kill, Leopard appeared out of the tress to chase away Vultures, she walked right by the truck.  At our breakfast stop mid-morning by one of the larger rivers, I was sitting on a rock on the shoreline, photographing Hippopotamus that were trumpeting mid-river, when our guide gesticulated frantically from the embankment - it seems I was being incredibly stupid (not unusual).  Crocodiles tend to lie submerged near the shoreline, then attack animals when they come down to the water to drink, twisting their prey up and around in the air, then submerging them until they drown.  Lesson learned!  Back to camp for lunch, we practice flash photography with one of the Maasai warriors as model.

Later that day, walking along an embankment on the same river, I encounter an 18' Crocodile lying on the shoreline, looking up at me, likely hoping I'd fall down the four feet of embankment separating him from me.  This guy is three times as long as I am tall, with a head wider than my home plasma display.  Hippopotamus and Crocodile share the water, though they don't like each other.  Evidently, an adult Hippopotamus will severely thrash an adult Crocodile if it comes to combat, though Crocodiles tend to prey on Hippopotamus juveniles.  So I was surprised to see a solo baby Hippopotamus in the river near the giant Crocodile at my feet, until his submerged Hippopotamus mother, whom he was riding piggyback, or hippoback, raised her head.  At sunset, two Cheetah lying atop a Termite mound - there's Termite mounds everywhere you look - surveying the landscape for an evening snack.  Unlike Leopards and Lions who stalk their prey - they're not really runners - Cheetah don't bother to stalk, they just run...at 70 mph.

Back at camp, an invigorating half bucket shower, then dinner and drinks.  Attempting to download photos to my laptop, Adobe Bridge and Photoshop go on the fritz, leaving me with crude ability to download and view photos for the remainder of the trip.

Day 6 Kenya

Mara  Sunrise ride to nearby Maasai village.  The weather has been pleasant so far, though it gets hot today.  The tribe men and women perform an elaborate greeting ceremony, including incredible leaping by the warriors, at the entrance to their village.  They welcome us inside their village, where they perform rituals, including a wedding, and draining blood to drink from a cow.  The blood-letting apparently does not harm the cow, and as the Maasai don't eat them, cows have a pretty good existence.  Young cows even live in the mud huts of the Maasai.  After a few hours, we're shepherded to the village marketplace, where we purchase Maasai merchandise for exorbitant prices.  The Maasai live in traditional mud huts, and adults wear traditional Maasai garb, though some wear quartz watches, some carry cell phones, some speak English with a perfect British accent, it all seems a bit anachronistic.  Still, a proud and handsome people who honor their traditions, very open and friendly to us.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Afternoon safari, spot (pun intended) a Cheetah with five cubs.  She chases an adult Wart Hog and several baby Wart Hogs, the babies duck for cover in a burrow, the adult Wart Hog then turns on the Cheetah and chases her away.  Feisty, evidently even Lions won't mess with Wart Hogs, 

This narrow four-poster with netting, down comforter and hot water bottle is one of the more comfortable beds I've slept in, though I'd forgotten about the hot water bottle and gotten surprised again when I got into bed.

Day 7 Kenya

Mara  Sipping hot chocolate and eating cookies in the early morning darkness, look up through the overhead canopy, faint outline of sky with brilliant stars, listening to sounds of the Mara and awakening camp.  The sunburn acquired during yesterday's Maasai village visit reminds me to apply some sunscreen this time. 

We see something vary rare - a daylight Leopard kill.  Our guide, with 26 years experience on the Mara, indicates this is only the second time he's seen this, so this was a special (though brutal) event.  Female Leopard stalks, immobilizes and strangles (with jaws, she has no opposing thumbs) a Bohar Reedbuck (antelope), then drags her kill towards a tree, where she later hoists the Reedbuck up into.  

Stop for mid-morning picnic breakfast at Lookout Mountain, spectacular panorama, look into Tanzania and the Serengeti - we'll cross the border another day.  Hear a Cuckoo bird, you can imagine what that sounds like.  Thunderstorm marches across the Mara, spectacular to watch. 

Two women in our group antagonize the two Hippopotamus that live in the river by our camp, something they've done since our arrival.  They make noises and aggressive gestures - the women - and the Hippopotamus bellow and tentatively charge, but don’t leave the water, which is why I’m still alive to write this blog.  So we had some fun:  The Maasai camp manager announces during lunch that it's illegal to harass Hippopotamus or other animals, and that the provocateurs will regrettably be deported from Kenya immediately.  The looks on their faces unforgettable, nobody had a camera...  After lunch, another flash photography session.

Dik-dik, Crowned Crane, Baboon, Waterbuck, the small and elusive Serval, plus many of the previously mentioned critters.  Incredible sunset, orange, blue and black clouds, all mixed together.  Major thunder - rain and thunder seem to quiet the animal chatter - during the evening.

Day 8 Kenya

Mara  Wide-awake at 2:30 am, listening to pride of Lions roar at the edge of camp, antagonized Hippopotamus bellowing in reply.  Up at 4:30 am for balloon ride.  Fifty yards away from the balloon, the pilot yells frantically, as the balloon is starting to lift off...we scramble in as the balloon lifts in the dark, followed by two other balloons.  The sun rises behind us, before us the Mara is active with Zebra, Wildebeest, Giraffe, Elephant, Hyena and the poor-eyesighted but excellent-hearing Black Rhinoceros.  We make a smooth landing - just shy of landing in the river, even odds we'd be eaten by a Crocodile or crushed by a Hippopotamus - after watching a solo balloonist bounce and nearly crash his balloon behind us.  Champagne and Bloody Mary's with breakfast, served on china, by waiters in formal attire, how wonderfully British :-)

At camp for lunch, training on Photoshop.  Late afternoon on safari the sky opens up, water runs in rivers over the surface, the ground impervious to moisture.  A pride of Lions huddle together for warmth in the rain.  Near sunset, watch a Cheetah, who watches a Thomson's Gazelle, who watches back, but no chase.  Beautiful clouds, soggy night in camp, another quiet night as the animals hunker down in the rain.

Day 9 Kenya

Mara  Morning hot chocolate and cookie ritual in the dark, listening to crickets and the near-subsonic rumble of restless Hippopotamus in the river 20 yards away.  Stunning orange sunrise (again).  Watch Cheetah and her cavorting three cubs.  Just after we left, others in my group observed her chase down a Thomson's Gazelle.  Spend time at one of the larger rivers, Crocodiles are not in any danger of extinction in Kenya.  Most game falls under the protection of a shoot-to-kill policy in place since the 1980's - military rangers are authorized to shoot poachers on site.  Based on the sheer volume of game and their tolerance of humans, it appears that this policy has been effective in Kenya.  

Photoshop training at lunch.  Late afternoon on safari, watch a Leopard consume her kill in a tree, amazing that she is able to drag an animal that weighs more than she does, up a tree.

Day 10 Kenya

Mara  Up three times during the night, vegetables lacking in diet?  Beautiful orange ball sunrise.  Mischievous Vervet (monkey) jumps up on hood of truck, makes for a nice close-up.  Driving, trace path of balloon ride from a few days ago, seeking the elusive Black Rhinoceros we saw from above.  Sneak into Tanzania, then back again, no one was shot.  Work with Lensbaby, a camera lens that provides selective focus by squeezing the lens.  The goal is to make part of the photograph blurry, with only the desired subject in focus.  I struggle to get the desired subject in focus with a normal lens, so I'm probably not ready for the Lensbaby.

Afternoon, observe three Cheetah brothers - well known by the guides - doing what most cats do...lounge.  The Lions are king, yes, but king of lounging.  Apparently they can sleep up to 20 hours a day.  The males are particularly well adapted for lounging, with the females performing most of the food preparation.  Another exceptional sunset, I don't think they'll ever get old.  

Day 11 Kenya

Mara  Red Oat Grass is the dominant species of grass on the Mara, favored by the Wildebeest.  Between one-to-two million Wildebeest migrate between the Maasai Mara (Kenya) and Serengeti (Tanzania).  Known as the "White-bearded Gnu" - what a nickname - they look rather demonic, kind of like satan on four legs.  They don't have a reputation for intelligence, which is obvious when you observe them, like large lemmings.  Zebra, reputed to be intelligent even though they snort like donkeys, hang out with the Wildebeest.  My theory is Zebra use Wildebeest to flush out the local carnivores.  Watched an eight-pack and a four-pack of Hyena stalk a herd of Wildebeest, looking for an ill or weak member of the herd.  Packs of Hyena have been known to attack Lions...bad dog! 

Day 12 Kenya

Mara  A few of us head back to the Maasai village.  I wanted to jump with the Maasai warriors, and they accommodated me, didn't even laugh openly.  Some photos were taken, though I haven't seen them, I thought I was getting some good height, but was told I was pathetic...  We brought gifts for the children, mine were Frisbees.  Tossed Frisbees with the children, they caught on very quickly, the Maasai are excellent athletes. 

So, the two animals in the Mara that don't fear the Maasai?  Nope, lions run (away) when they encounter a Maasai warrior, Leopards and Cheetahs too.  Carnivores can see color, a Maasai warrior in traditional red garb is easy to spot.  The two animals that don't fear the Maasai warrior:  Elephant and Cape Buffalo.  Both will trample the Maasai - and anyone else - if they feel threatened.  Elderly Cape Buffalo bulls, typically kicked out of the herd when they get old, and evidently grumpy, are the worst, will charge on a whim

Large Lion pride, watch a young Lioness stalk and attack a Wildebeest, though the Wildebeest turned, charged and drove the Lioness away!  The rest of the pride watched with that disinterested look-right-through-you look that only cats have, no one bothered to help, though you could tell they were embarrassed that a fellow genus Panthera was beaten by a Wildebeest, and appalled that dinner was still standing on its own legs.  Six Lion cubs tumbled about, pouncing on each other just like domestic kittens, endless energy.  We watched and photographed until, well, we just couldn't smile anymore

Day 13 Kenya

Mara to Manhattan Beach  Today we did something we'd never done before - slept in!  First opportunity to have breakfast in camp, exceptional omelet made-to-order by the executive chef, this is what we've been missing by leaving camp for safari before sunrise each day? 

Puddle-jumper flight from nearby gravel strip to Nairobi, most of us are quiet, reflecting on our common experience in the Mara, not ready to leave.  Shop at a souvenir store downtown, interesting architecture in Nairobi!  Meet up for dinner at new Brazilian restaurant near the airport, say farewells to fellow trekkers and our guides.  Three security checkpoints at the airport - I won't complain as much about security screening in the U.S. - then board flight for London.  Layover at the new, humongous Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, with its shopping malls and floor-to-ceiling glass walls, then direct to Los Angeles.  Uneventful flights - a good thing - finished a book, studied some training Podcasts. 

Kenya, what an incredible experience!  With five inoculation shots plus anti-malarial pills, I was immune to about everything except Hoof and Mouth Disease.  I don't recall anyone becoming ill, no one starved or was eaten or trampled to death.  Everyone was friendly, service in the camp was exceptional.  I picked up lots of photographic tips, snapped the shutter 6,000 times, walked away with a few photographs I'm even happy with.  And I made new friends.  A trip to Africa is one to be remembered!