Friday, July 27, 2007

Too Much Tuscan Sun

This is still one of my favorite genres - at Barnes and Noble, it's shelved under "Travel Essays". (In the DDC it's within whichever geographic area it covers, often LOC Subject headed with "Homes and Haunts" or "Anecdotes". Heh. Library nerd.)

Too Much Tuscan Sun is the stories that Dario Castagno has collected during years of being a tour guide in Chianti, Italy. I picked this up because I noticed the sequel to it at a bookstore, and wanted to check it out. Turned out I really liked it. Castagno is very earnest about his work, his life, and his home area. He seems like a really honest, well-meaning person who would be a pleasure to take a tour with. Of course, most of his stories focus on the weird or demanding clients he has had. They are at turns funny, poignant, sad or maddening. But through it shines Castagno's love for his land and for sharing it with people. I hope our library orders hsi new book; I'd really like to read it.

Book 48

Tales From Q School

I've read most, if not all of John Feinstein's golf books - A Good Walk Spoiled, The Majors, Open. Really enjoy his writing style - he gets into players heads and their lives, and give a well-rounded and in-depth picture of what he's writing about. This book is about Q School, the fall tournament that is the main entry point into the PGA Tour for most of the players who are headed there. It's a strange tournament in a lot of ways, most notably the pressure that players in it feel. Feinstein does a great job of chronicling it. This book, though, more than previous ones, feels like it is a series of magazine columns that was hammered into book form - there are strange repetitions of phrases and facts from chapter to chapter. Still enjoyed it very much, and can't wait to see what Feinstein does next in the golf world.

Book 46

Around the World in 18 Holes

Yeah, I know, another golf book. I read a lot of them, OK? This one is specifically a golf TRAVEL book, though, which appealed to me. Come to think of it, I really don't travel to golf, though, so I don't know why it would. I guess I pictured kind of a "Long Way Round" golf style, which this was, in a way.

Callahan and Kindred are sportswriter colleagues who decide, as their careers are winding down, to make a big statement and travel around the world playing golf. They'll pick one unique and challenging hole from specific courses around the world, and string into one "diabolical" 18. The visit Scotland, Iceland, France, India, Mauritius, Russia, Nepal, China, Taiwan and the U.S. The meet all sorts of fascinating people. They play some pretty miserable golf. Seriously, I'm glad they wrote more about the travel aspect than their games - it's no fun listening to a 14 handicapper (about my skill level, by the way) talk about his driver troubles. I think they were generous with the putts, too - they seemed to relate making a LOT of long ones.

These are guys from a different generation and cultural background from me, too - their writing was peppered with sports allusions that I was unfamiliar with, and cultural ones that I had just barely heard of. Still enjoyed reading about the travels, even if it seemed pretty selfish an endeavor in the end.

Book 47

Sunday, July 22, 2007

First haircut

Little behind on my blogging - I had promised to put some pictures of Sofia's recent first haircut up here, and forgot. So; here you are:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tokyo Suckerpunch

I picked up Tokyo Suckerpunch from the "Read and Return" shelf at the Incline Village library when I was up there last week, and I'm glad that I did. Really fun read. I'd have to describe it as Mark Leyner meets Tim Dorsey and vacations in Japan. (If you don't know those two authors, your reading habits are probably way too normal...) At any rate, the basic synopsis: Billy Chaka is in Tokyo covering the Junior Handicapped martial arts tournament when he stumbles into a plot involving the death of a filmmaker hero of his who was working on a script about - who else - Billy Chaka. Hijinks ensue. Not sure if I'll seek out the sequel, Hokkaido Popsicle, but I might read it if it happens to fall into my lap somehow.

Book 44

Monday, July 16, 2007

Conan the Liberator

So; from some of the best fantasy I've read in awhile to... well, to Conan. A friend on the Boyz Trip was reading one of the Conan books, and I thought I'd give one a try just to see what they were like. Had a hard time picking one; the whole timeline is kind of confusing. It ended up that my library only had one of the books on the shelf, anyway - Conan the Liberator, a later title by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. It was kind of hard to pick up the thread of where in his career Conan was at this point, but at least it gave me a feel for the books. I was kind of hoping they'd be similar to je James Bond series, but - ahh - they're not that good. Very simple plot lines, hurried ending, and a lot of flowery language - "ensorceled" and "incarnadined in gore" come to mind. Not quite as much "wenching" in this one as I had expected - Maybe Conan was getting old in this book, or just too busy. Anyway, it was a quick little read, but I don't think I'll spend any more time on the whole Conan series...

Book 43

Kuhsiel's Justice

Kushiel's Justice was one of my more eagerly-awaited books recently; even above a new Terry Pratchett or Christopher Moore title. Mich and I read Jacqueline Carey's first series and really enjoyed it - this is the second book in her second series.I would call this some of the best fantasy I've read in a while - ok, ever. Her books are well thought out, emotionally deep (heart-rending, sometimes) and thought-provoking, while maintaining a sense of humor. Addictive, sexy and fun. What more can you ask?

I'm trying to find a way to give a quick description of the whole series (and this book within it) without going into too much detail - having a hard time. Let me just try. The books take place in a world structured on Europe of a couple centuries age, with most of the action happening in Terre d'Ange - analagous to France. Their religion and society is based on principles of love. The first three books were the story of a courtesan named Phedre, who through a series of adventures becomes powerful and respected. The second series is mostly about Imriel, who is Phedre's adopted son (the birth son of her arch-nemesis, a banished traitor) and of royal blood - in the line of succession. Jeez, that doesn't do it justice at all - I could write pages just in summary. Let me just say: I loved these books. They drew me in to their world completely.

Book 42

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Long Dark Teatime of the Soul

Long Dark Teatime of the Soul is the second of Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently books, the first of which I reread about a month ago. Like the first, this is the story of an average person (in this case, a woman) to whom extraordinary things start happening. This time, it is the gods (Norse gods, for some reason) who are acting up - but fortunately, Dirk Gently is there to unravel the events in his own way. Much hilarity ensues. Although this is maybe not quite as strong a book as DG's Holistic Detective Agency, it's still got loads of Douglas Adam's own humor, and is worth a read just for that.

Book 41

The Eight

Mich has been recommending The Eight to me ever since we've met, and I've just now got around to reading it. I can see why she enjoyed it so much - it's got a lot of elements that appeal to her. Chess, France, history, math and logic, a strong female character. Kind of a "perfect storm" book that seems like it was written just for her. Anyway, it's one of those worldwide conspiracy stories that nowadays get compared to the Da Vinci Code - in fact, the new paperback cover mentions it by title. (The older copy that we have compares it to Name of the Rose.) It jumps back and forth from present time (OK, the mid-80's) and a computer programmer named Katherine to the late 1700's and a nun named Mirielle. The story revolves around a mystical chess set once owned by Charlemagne, which has encoded in it's board and pieces some amazing secret. I'll admit, the plot had me guessing until the end - I felt like I should have seen the twist coming, but didn't. OK, so this was a bit dated at this point, but it was still a fun read.

Book 40

Boyz Trip 7

Well, I dried off from the river, we had dinner (actually, that was my night to cook, too - Shrimp Curry!) and we continued on. Had quite a sing-along that night - "North to Alaska", "Big Iron", etc. Note: no more pictures until we got back to Whittier - I had to let the camera dry out, then it needed more batteries.

The next day, we paddled all the way back to our first campsite; at Applegate. It was a little less windy this night, and therefore much more buggy. Spent most of the night being chased by bugs, and turned in a bit earlier.

Our last day of paddling, we headed north up Culross Passage. Had to be a little careful of boat traffic up here; it was a well-traveled shortcut. We had a tailwind for most of the way, so Karl and I strung our rain jackets up with out paddles and made sails. When the others were paddling, we couldn't quite keep up with them, but if they stopped for a rest, we caught right up. it sprinkled a litte while we were on the water that day, too, but not much. Found our campsite/agreed upon pickup spot way at the north end of the passage. It was a little buggy, but the wind came back up and helped out. That was my dinner night, too - Chicken dumplings with broccoli and carrots. Nice to have veggies on the last night out.

Rained pretty hard on us that night, which made it hard to get up and meet our early shuttle boat. But we had camp almost completely broken down when they pulled up. Loaded up and headed back to Whittier. Shuttled gear and boats to the outfitters, sorted through our soggy stuff, and got packed up for the ride back to Anchorage. Had a little time to kill, so we walked down and had halibut sandwiches for lunch by the water. Eventually caught our shuttle back to Anchorage, checked into our motel, and headed out for dinner. After dinner we had the traditional settle-up session, where Karl does a bunch of confusing math and we figure out who owes who what. Worked out pretty well.

Great trip overall - Alaska sure is a different place. The sheer scale of it was hard to get used to, as was the daylight issue. Lots of fun, though. Would love to go back someday, maybe drive or motorcycle up there...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Boyz Trip 6

Our camp-neighbors had told us that there was a way to hike up to the left of this waterfall and get to the ridge that ran above our camp, where there were some great views.

So Matt, Smitty and I crashed through some undergrowth and climbed up next to the waterfall. Here's Matt and I alongside it:

And Matt standing near the top of the falls:

We continued on up to the top of the ridge, where the views were indeed incredible - every way you turned, there were breathtaking views. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves here:

Those last three are part of a panorama that, for some reason, I wasn't able to stitch together. Here's one more, with me in it:

Anyway, we started to hike back down to camp, and to avoid some of the annoying crashing through trees, we skirted a little closer to the river. At one point, we rounded a big rock right next to the river, and I stopped to take this picture of Matt:

After I took the picture, I put the camera back in my pocket and turned around. It looked a little slippery right in front of me, so I stepped beyond what I thought was the slippery part. Apparently I didn't make it quite far enough, because I slipped and went right into the river. Didn't hit any rocks; I went right into a deep part - in fact, it was over my head. When I came up, the first thing I saw was my hat floating in front of me, so I grabbed it. The second thing I saw was a big rock at the side of the river, so I grabbed it and pulled myself out. That's when I realized how close to the top of the falls I had been - about 15 yards. (A trip over those falls probably wouldn't have killed me, but definitely would have broken a few things...) Matt and Smitty picked their way over the slippery section and came to where I was standing - My heart was racing fast enough that I wasn't cold at all. Anyway, we continued down, pumped some water for dinner, and headed back to camp, where I changed into dry clothes.

More later...

Monday, July 9, 2007

Boyz Trip 5

So the first night at Derickson Bay we just set up camp, had dinner and hung out. Camp hanging-out picture:

And a good kayak/scenery shot:

The next day was a bit more exciting. We kayaked around the corner to take a look at the Nellie Juan Glacier. We paddled through water full of ice chunks:

And sat in front of the glacier for awhile:

We stayed back at least a half mile; what we'd been told was a safe distance. We did see the glacier "calve" - a couple big chunks of ice fall off. Pretty impressive. We were far enough back that we didn't get any wake from them. Made sure that we grabbed a chunk of glacier ice to make cold drinks with back at camp:

When we got back to cam, some of us relaxed for awhile:

And some of us REALLY relaxed:

A few of us went for a hike. More on that in another post...

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Boyz Trip 4

Eventually we had breakfast, broke camp down and got loaded up into the kayaks:

Here's our approximate route on the first day of paddling.

It had stopped raining during the night, so we weren't paddling in the rain at this point. After an hour or two, we stopped for a break:

We scouted out a place called Mink Island for campsites, but it was really boggy, so we decided to make the crossing of Nellie Juan Sound to look for sites on the south shore. Took us about an hour and a half to cross, and the first few sites we looked at weren't very good. The map showed something called "Cannery Ruins" nearby, which we decided to check out, but it was kind of creepy. Eventually, we found a site that was small and cozy (and buggy), but was our best option. Here's a good idea of how much gear we still had along at that point:

Did I mention this campsite was buggy? Note the headnets that we were wearing in that last photo. I'd never worn one before, but let me tell you - they are hot and itchy, and interfere with your view. (Definitely better than getting swarmed, though.) Here's a Turi's-eye view through my net:

Like I said, it was a cozy little camp. We actually had to move a big log a few feet out of the way so we could get all our tents above the high tide mark. We usually liked to have a bit more separation between the tents, especially the snoring/smelly tent (I won't name names.) But there was a water source nearby, and it all worked out pretty well.

The next morning we had breakfast, packed up (seemed to be a lot of that), and headed out. (Around noon; the days were getting later already.) Here's our route for the second day on the water. Greg caught another fish that day; we put it on a stringer and towed it to our next campsite.

Had a nice lunch break:

With a great view:

Just left of center on that panorama is where we were headed: Derickson Bay. Here's the landing party pulling up:

And the campsite that we set up:

OK, enough for this post. To be continued...

Boyz Trip 3

So we got camp set up, and some of the guys headed out to do some fishing:

Not really my thing, but I tagged along to get some pictures, and ended up with this really picturesque one of Patrick:

I think one of the guys ended up catching a rockfish, so we had a bit of surf and turf for dinner. Went nicely with our steaks - ONE POUND steaks per person; not sure who did the shopping for that meal...

There were a couple of eagles flying around our camp; the first of many we were to see. Here's one:

This one and another eagle had a fight outside of our camp the first night; it was really loud. Here's the remains of what they were fighting over:

I should mention that there's not much night in Alaska right now. From about 12:30 to 3AM, the sun dropped below the horizon and it got kind of "dusky" out, but other than that, it was pretty bright. Kind of hard to get used to - our dinner times kept sliding back until the last night, when we ate at about 11PM. Here's the next morning, anyway, milling around camp and trying to figure out where the coffee was...

And continuing with the next day in another post...

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Boyz Trip 2

The next morning we grabbed some breakfast in Whittier (Reindeer sausage omelette, yum) and headed to the outfitters. It was raining pretty good at this point, so those who didn't have rubberized raingear with them rented some. Kind of looked like we had a uniform at that point:

We got a little kayak fitting and orientation from our outfitter, Lois:

Then we loaded up kayaks and gear in a van and trailer and headed down to the docks, where we met our "water taxi."

The water taxi took us from Whittier first east, then south through the Culross Passage to the spit of land just NW of Applegate Island (a little over an hour trip), where we unloaded and made our first camp:

First order of business was stringing some tarps to keep the rain off:

It was kind of a learning curve - our first tarps were strung kind of lamely, but by the time we got to this one (over my tent) we had it down a little better.

Wow, too many pictures. I'll continue this in another post, again...

Boyz Trip 1

I'm going to have to break the description of my recent trip to Alaska up into a few installments - this, obviously being the first.

So, the Boyz Trip. Every year, a group of friends of mine take some kind of adventure trip - backpacking, canoeing, cycling or kayaking, generally. This was the twelfth year that they've done it, and I've been along for four of them now. Past trips that I've been on have been backpacking in Wyoming's Wind River Range and Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and kayaking around Catalina Island.

It's a really good group of guys that come along - most know each other from growing up in the area around Trinidad in Northern California. There are a few other relatives and friends thrown in also, like me. I'm there because of my college roommate Karl, who has invited me along since college. There are an interesting mix of guys as well - a lawyer, a city planner, a Montessori teacher, a librarian.

This year we decided to finally make it to Alaska - we'd been talking about it for a few years, but it always seemed like too much time and expense. We made it happen, though - here's how it went:

We all met in Anchorage - some of the guys got in on Friday night, Karl and I cam in on Saturday around noon, and the last straggler came in around 5. Once Karl and I got into town, we stored our gear at the hotel the first group had been staying at. They let us use a closet:

To kill some time until our last guy showed up, we went bowling - split into two teams and got a little competitive.

We then had grabbed a bit to eat at a downtown restaurant, where the late arrival showed up, then collected our gear from the motel:

And caught our shuttle to Whittier:

We stayed the night in Whittier at June's B&B, which is most of the top floor of the Begich Towers - the largest building in Whittier. Apparently something like 85% of Whittier's population live in the building - it pretty much dominates the town. Pretty nice place, actually.

Here's the view outside the window, looking down on Whittier. The tan warehouse at the middle right of the picture is our outfitter, PWS Kayak Center. YOu can see some of the boats lined up outside.

OK, that's day one - I'll continue on in another post later...