Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thank You!

To our employers who believed in this crazy idea, and our sponsors who helped make it happen. To all the students who attended our presentations and the faculty who facilitated them. To those who housed, fed, and entertained us. To those who waited patiently for us to pull over so they could pass. To those who drove our shuttles and shared local knowledge. To those who loaned tools, expertise, houseboats, wives, etc. To all the Canadians and Americans who were so friendly every place we went.
But especially to:

Glyn, Terri, Alana and Isaac
Heather and Joe, and baby Pearl
Nigel and Kristin
One T and his Bellingham posse
The Makah Nation
National Park Service
Alex and her crew at Golden Fuel Systems
Sarah Amspacher
Claire Tenenbaum and Riley Dopler
Dee Custer
Bryan Miller, Sue Miller, Whitey, and CP
The Yurok Nation
Robin Barlow
Chicken Dave
Sierra Nevada Brewing
Dude Williard, Jessica, David Press, and Hez
Shirley, John, Lynne, Rhiannon, Michael, Eliza, and Dylan West
WK Stewart and Family
Justin and Janet in SF

We'll see you down the road............

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Piper's Index

17------------------# of schools visited
7, 053------------- Total miles driven
70 -----------------Total, in US Dollars, spent on diesel fuel
4------------------- Number of Raycor Filters changed, at $12/filter
0------------------- Tickets received for parking illegally or speeding
2 -------------------# of times pulled over in vehicles skateboard/bike
1 -------------------House fires we started while house guests
1--------------------Cases of homemade Alaska berry preserves eaten
2------------------- Cases of smoked salmon consumed
1.5 -----------------Amount, in Kg, of red lentils consumed on the trip
37-------------------# of raw oysters consumed
7--------------------# of Haines friends visited
2 -------------------# of Haines friends bumped into
2 -------------------Childhood friends visited
4 -------------------# of provinces/ states where we kayaked rivers
1 -------------------# of provinces states where we swam in the sea
2 -------------------Museums visited
1------------------- Number of churches attended

Winding Down

The fall 2007 portion of the university tour wrapped up with visits to San Jose State and UC-Santa Cruz. Dr. Gonzaga da Gama was our gregarious host at San Jose, and we soon found ourselves speaking and showing slides in a bunch of different classes, including a graduate seminar and an eco-tourism class. Santa Cruz was a slightly different story- a wetter, lonelier story. The tour ended huddled under the Kelty wing outside the rec center as a december storm blew through Santa Cruz.
To celebrate, we retired to the lovely village of Carmel-by-the -Sea and called on Haines friend Thad Stewart. Thad and his wife Martha own and run Mosey's, a fantastic southwestern restaurant up in Alaska. They had just made a chile run to New Mexico to procur the 1.5 tons needed for the next summer season and afterward Thad had returned to his childhood home, a beautiful old hacienda overlooking the sea between Carmel and Big Sur. Our host was his father, W.K. Stewart, Esq., a nonagenarian practicing lawyer, anti-war activist, WWII vet and general bon vivant. We had a great time sitting by the fire in the library hearing stories from Bill's half-century in Carmel, with cameos from Ansel Adams, Henry Miller, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan, as well as several unsuccessful Japanese kamikaze pilots. Thad took us to Big Creek, a 5,000 acre swath of land in the heart of Big Sur, once owned by Bill and some associates. They donated the entire parcel to UCSC in the seventies, but all the families retain access for a couple generations, and each have a small cabin on the land, surely some of the most incredible real estate on the west coast. We hiked to a beautiful little cabin nestled in the redwoods, built in the style of the Haida natives from our neck of the woods. Later, working our way to the top of the ridge, we came to Bill and Thad's place, a beautiful little post and beam cabin with lots of glass that looks out on sweeping views of hills and sea. Someday a wildfire will claim it and it won't be rebuilt. For now, it's a great little weekend getaway spot for the family and lucky friends.
We woke up early on Sunday and drove back to San Francisco for the 11 o'clock mass at Glide Memorial Church. On the way in, Matt ran into two folks from our little Alaskan town, coming out of the early mass. After the memorable service we walked around the Mission District in search of a cabeza-sized burrito, and, stuffed, stumbled upon the Radio Havana Social Club. A hole-in-the wall plastered in Cuban and American kitsch, it was spilling over with percussionists, two elderly salsa dancers and a handful of appreciative audience members. Another beautiful find on the roads of America.
At Vladimir's in Inverness a couple weeks before, a dining couple had brazenly offered their houseboat in Sausalito. Perhaps they pitied us sleeping cramped in the back of the Piper, perhaps it was the wine, but in any case we do not pass up such offers. Their beautiful floating home proved to be a great spot to launch a paddle trip under the GG bridge and for entertaining Chicken Dave and his friend Jen. We grilled fresh Monterey sardines, sang songs and carried on late into the night, until the carriage became a pumpkin, or a Piper, once again.............

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bad Vibes, Good Fun

"You gotta be kidding me," announced a heckler as Natcho and I carried our whitewater kayaks towards the stairs descending to Pleasure Point. We had arrived in Santa Cruz and, after a quick peek at the famed break Steamer's Lane, were headed for what I remembered as the mellow longboarding spot south of town.
"You guys aren't going out there?" asked a woman scouting the surf.
Well, yeah, we were thinking about it.
No. Don't go there. Kayakers are not welcomed here. No way. You'll get yelled at, your car might get messed with. (How would they know which vehicle we were in?) They might waterboard you, or tie your paddle around your neck. You might be alright just paddling past everyone and over to the inside break, but who knows, they may still mess with your vehicle.
Depressed, ostracized and feeling quite self-conscious, we slunk back to the Fried Piper and ignominiously left Pleasure Point, boats inside the van and still dressed in paddling gear.
But we couldn't just leave it at that. We've entered surf country, with nice waves and warm sun. Plus, town was abuzz with talk of the huge swell on its way. Forty foot waves 350 miles offshore, headed for town. The surf contest at Mavericks was just announced and big wave riders would soon be descending upon the area. We had to get in at least one surf session.
So we searched town and found a kayak shop and they directed us to Capitola, where we wouldn't get knifed or have the Fried Piper defaced by keys. We paddled out past the pier and played on waves on the inside for a bit, before venturing out to the better break alongside a few longboarders.
"You guys speak English?" asked an older dude.
Yeah, a little bit.
"Big waves are coming."
But aside from that snide comment, people were cool and accommodating and we enjoyed the best rides of the trip. Long, glassy breaking waves that weren't too steep for dropping into.
We've entered a different part California, according to both the road atlas and the vibe on the water.
But our perseverance continues and we are determined to find PLUs in all corners. This proved the case during our time in Inverness, as we were welcomed into a beautiful home at the top of a canyon above Tomales Bay. Nestled in the woods, it is surrounded by pine and madrones and a few prominent snags that are home to Osprey and woodpeckers.
My childhood friend Dude has been caretaking the home for several years and has built tiered garden beds and encouraged a small orchard of plums, olives, apples and more. Also an avid mushroom hunter and harvester, we enjoyed sharing tales of subsistence and comparing Southeast Alaska to coastal California.
During our time there, we also had the pleasure of spending time with Jessica as well as David and Hez. David grew up in the house and now works for the park service as a biologist. He was counting elephant seals the day we were there. His parents moved to the area in the 1970s and now live in DC, where his father, Bill Press, is a political commentator and writer who co-hosted (with Robert Novak) CNN's CrossFire.
Our final night was capped with a dinner of Hog Island oysters, raw and barbecued, and some music making. Dude plays the kora, and it was the most unique jam session of the trip since one with an accordion player at Evergreen State College.
For the next few days, we'll be staying with Natcho's family in San Jose, his sister Eliza, brother-in-law Mike and nephew Dylan, whose link is on the blog. We're off to San Jose State to speak to classes tonight and tomorrow.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Czeching out NoCal

On the tour of the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico, we had heard about the company's commitment to renewable energy, which includes a large solar array and what they touted as one of the country's biggest hydrogen fuel cell installations. The carbon dioxide produced through fermentation is captured and used around the brewery, and their waste water is captured to power the fuel cells. So, it seemed like a good place to ask for a sample of the other amber liquid they produce: waste vegetable oil from their adjoining restaurant. Our request was passed up the chain through a few people, and soon Michael Ilse, the executive chef, came out to meet us. He was really enthusiastic about what we're doing and personally let us in to the dumpster where we found a jackpot of used rice oil, the first on this trip. It's high quality and produced locally in California, so it fits into the company commitment to local agriculture. Michael told us that the beef served in the restaurant is raised naturally nearby at CSU-Chico , the animals munching on the spent barley and hops from the brewing process. We took several keg's worth of grease off their hands and left Chico with our 100 gallon tank full to brimming....
A week into the California portion of our journey, we find ourselves in the little town of Inverness, squeezed between Tomales Bay and the Pt. Reyes National Seashore, a little piece of bucolic nirvana just a stone's throw from San Francisco. We came here for some sea kayaking and to look up a childhood friend of Matt's, David "Dude" Willard, a sustainable energy consultant who, among other projects, works with local wineries to help them lower their carbon footprint. Matt is picking the mandolin as the morning light filters through the trees and fills the beautiful post and beam house tucked into the hillside, and well designed to suck up every bit of this late-November sunlight.
We had great visits to UCDavis, where the Fried Piper was welcomed into the bicycle-only campus, and CSU-Chico where we gave a presentation to the monthly meeting of their outdoor club. Multi-tasking in Chico, we visited Haines friend Robin Barlow and dropped off two cases of canned sockeye salmon, an Alaskan-style care package from her mother in Haines. We also got to see the only three-story covered bridge in the nation. Filled with brewery grease, we braved the crazy freeways and made our way to the Bay Area for a Thursday visit at the Bay School, a fairly new prep school nestled in the Presidio. We rolled into Berkeley late on Wednesday and hooked up with Chicken Dave, and old Vermont friend and classic character. A fondue plan was hatched late night, including a slideshow of the trip with Matt playing the mandolin and improvising lyrics. After dinner and tunes we slept on the roof of Chicken's apartment building, with me perched at the edge closest to the van, figuring I could throw stones at any potential thieves.
We crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, Matt in van , me on bicycle, in the bright California sunshine and made our way to Marin Headlands to scout the surf. Instead we found a contracting crew dressed in haz-mat suits, cleaning balls of fuel oil off the beach. The oil had ridden tides out of the bay and north up the coast after the spill of a few weeks ago. No surfing here, bru.
North again through a beautiful grove of redwoods and the rolling pasture land of Pt. Reyes. The wind was howling on the beach, so we hunkered down at Vladimir's, a restaurant run by a Czech man who has been in business since 1960. Stumbling on little places like this is one of the sublime pleasures of the American road trip. We enjoyed some Pilsner Urquell and played some backgammon while we listened to three locals opine on current politics ( "I hate commies as much as anyone, I fought them in Africa..."). Vlad runs the place by himself, at one point we saw him in the back, hunched over the next roll of apple strudel. The locals left and were replaced by a couple from the city on an overnight getaway. We chatted with them and before long they were offering use of their houseboat in Sausalito. It's that kind of place. The bread was reminiscent of shoe leather and the prices were somewhat shocking, but the pickled red cabbage was delicious and the experience was priceless.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Surf and Turf

We’re at the square in Arcata after an incredible day on the north coast. Sitting at a cozy cafĂ© with the first Christmas carols the stereo and a large tree being raised in the square, eating a delicious sandwich.
For the second day in a row we awoke in the redwood grove and set out for mad adventure. It was sunny and beautiful and the surf was kicking at South Beach, so we started the morning catching the first ocean waves of the trip. In the parking lot the Fried Piper continued to be something of a magnet for old guys with a lot to say.
Our efforts pounding our way out through the surf were rewarded with lots of sweet rides on overhead waves. It was sunny and warm, perfect for drying out whitewater gear in between two leisurely surf sessions. Matt fixed the surfboard and switched from the kayak to shred some waves standing up, his first rides since nearly a year ago in Nicaragua (he still doesn’t have a cutback). Then it was back on the road, heading south past a broken coast sparkling below the bluffs. We dropped down to the Klamath River and climbed again, pulling over at a vista 600 feet above the sea. Scrambling down a slippery path, we landed at a beach with amazing rock spires and huge surf bucking up right at the beach and pounding down with a fury.
We walked the beach towards the mouth of the Klamath, past a massive redwood rootball submerged in the sand, a dead sea lion and beautiful succulent plants clinging to giant boulders. The river makes a lazy bend at the end and forms a beautiful little cove where a raft of surf scoters were hanging out near a lone fly fisherman. These birds apparently fared the worst in the SF Bay fuel spill.
At the river mouth we passed through the ceremonial site for the Urok natives. It’s a little fish camp with perfect shake buildings and a cedar sweat lodge. We walked back to the road and back to the van for sunset. Matt rode his skateboard down the mountain to complete the multi-sport weekend. Now it’s on to Chico for an IWLS presentation at Chico State tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Going to California, Back on the Blog

With bellies full and the Fried Piper brimming with Thanksgiving leftovers and some strange grease from behind a super market in Talent, Ore., we crossed the state line into California. Shortly thereafter, we saw a Hummer, a dangerously fast driver and were panhandled by a grifter. We were also stunned by the beauty of the redwood forest of Northern California and the coastline surrounding Crescent City. California: the best and worst of America.

Our time in Oregon was eventful, and we apologize to readers about the lack of writing or photos. Trips to the coast, city time in Portland, and Thanksgiving in Ashland with several Haines friends were big highlights. Bryan “Millagio” Miller hosted us for the holiday, and made great rosemary mashed potatoes for the feast. Natcho contributed filo dough stuffed with ricotta/chantrelle stuffing and homemade jalapeno poppers, and Matt added sweet potato pie and cherry pie made with pie cherries from Paradise Cove, Alaska, canned this past summer. Sue Miller hosted fourteen people, including Bryan “Y.T.” White and Chris “C.P.” Pintozzi. Thanks Sue.

We arrived in Crescent City, a town devastated by a tsunami in 1964, to find flat surf and grey whales offshore. We paddled out at sunset and were sandwiched between a huge moon and the setting sun. The whales kept their distance, but their breathing punctuated an otherwise silent dusk.

We slept in an enchanted grove of redwoods, sans tent, with moonlight filtering through the giant evergreen trees and making for a most memorable night.

We awoke to the hammering of a pileated woodpecker and sipped tea (forgot the coffee at Miller’s) and ate some power-packed hot gruel cereal before embarking on our biggest stretch of whitewater yet: the gorge of the Middle Fork of the Smith River.

Incredibly clear and beautiful, the river meandered through forested hillsides and rocky bluffs for several miles before dropping into a gorge of polished rock. We picked our way through rapids, scouting every one, and running safety on several (where one of us stands downstream of the rapid with a throw bag in case of a swim). Oregon Hole was the biggest rapid of the run and we both managed to avoid the big hole and get propelled through a chute of turbulent water. Several more good-sized rapids kept us sharp and we finished our paddle as dusk neared.

Postcard from California

The sun was shining as we made for the coast. Sun Kil Moon covering Modest Mouse on the stereo:

start at the northwest corner, go down through California....

We stopped for Matt to use the facilities, an outhouse with a gigantic fly on the roof. The door was locked. Key at the counter, attached to a flyswatter.

got yourself a trucker's atlas.....

Billboard in field : "US out of the United Nations."

Now Manu Chao sings:

El viento viene,
El viento se va......
Por la frontera

Por la frontera we go, out of Oregon and into California, the Golden State, land of dreams.

Por la carretera....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Good Morning from Our Portland Headquarters

Gorge Us

The Fried Piper has entered Oregon, a new state and new fates. Gone are the days of covertly sleeping in unzoned areas, for we are now enjoying a comfortable life in Eliot Tower. An 18-story high rise condominium in downtown Portland, we rub elbows with professionals on our daily commute around the city.
Overlooking the Portland art museum, a place in the Tower was loaned to us by Delores Custer. A professional chef and food stylist in New York, “Dee” has kindly provided proper digs for our time in the city at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.
Our first weekend in Oregon was spent on the banks of the Columbia, upstream in the Hood River/White Salmon area. A land rich with whitewater rivers, fruit orchards, kite boarders and old friends, we enjoyed catching up with many of the latter and staged a bit of a Misty Fjords sea kayak ranger reunion. Our friend Jonathan Graca, who runs a nonprofit overseeing land use in the area, joined us for breakfast and a run down the Big White Salmon. Will Cole, who worked with Matt as an outdoor educator and is now a firefighter in Redmond, OR, also joined up for the run. River levels were low, but we managed to run the river and had fun in the numerous rapids. The photo here is Jonathan’s textbook run down Husum Falls.
Our hosts in White Salmon were Riley Dopler and Claire Tenenbaum. Riley was out in the mountains doggedly stalking elk during the brief hunt opening, but he came back briefly and we caught up over Claire’s wonderful green chile chili. Recently engaged, the “Doplbaumers” are friends of Natcho’s from his time in Misty Fjords and they were great hosts. We enjoyed the last of the garden’s bounty, eating grape tomatoes and cucumbers on salads, and Claire worked her seamstress magic, hemming pants and repairing torn elbows on our clothing. Thank you so much Claire! We’ve noticed the residents of Eliot casting furtive, admiring glances at our newly mended duds. We also visited the Skamania Lodge, where Claire and Riley will be married in the spring, and scored grease from the stylish lodge. Heading into Portland, land of grease wars, according to a report on NPR’s Splendid Table, we had full tanks. The one dumpster we have scouted, at the Rogue brewpub, backed up the NPR report. It was padlocked and affixed with a sticker threatening would-be grease thieves with a year in jail and a $5000 fine.
Yesterday we kicked off our first four-university week with a visit to Reed College on Veteran’s Day. It was a stormy Monday with high winds and rain buffeting Oregon. A storm from the coast, where 82 mph winds were recorded, whipped up into the Willamette Valley leaving much of Portland without power. Reed was also impacted and the line in the dining hall was slowed to a crawl, with students waiting patiently for an $0.85 bowl of beans and rice. Power returned just in time for our slideshow and we glided back to the Eliot feeling alright.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Day 21: Tacoma- the World's 6th Largest Port

Tacoma, WA 6:25 Pm-
Justin Canny, the Outdoor Program leader at University of Puget Sound is an IWLS supporter and true FOP (Friend of the Piper). He greased the wheels for the greasy travelers by arranging, through security, a special parking permit that allowed us to put the van right in the middle of campus. We set up our little scene and Matt began an impromptu workshop in camp cookery (breakfast). Soon the smells of Ethiopian coffee, salmon scrambled eggs, and dandelion greens with zucchini and ginger were wafting throughout the campus and drawing curious students and faculty. The van was the perfect billboard and people were excited to check out the grease system and our info table. We're giving our presentation to the Outdoor Club's meeting in a few minutes and should have a huge turnout. After the show, the autograph session, and the after-party, we'll be diving headlong into the campus grease vat, which was pre-scouted and found to be full of at least 50 gallons (!) of liquid gold.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Gear and Gears

For those interested in the adventures we take and the various risks involved, we've decided to post gear lists for some of these trips. The recent paddle on the outer coast of the Pacific and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca was not taken lightly. We undertook the paddle only after checking swell, wind, current, weather and tide charts and were prepared to turn around at any point. In addition to knowing the forecasts, we carried: a hypothermia kit in each boat (fleece top/bottom/hat/socks/lighter, enclosed in a dry bag); one tent and one sleeping bag and pad; two flashlights; flares on each person and a cell phone. We wore helmets, life jackets and were dressed to swim (drysuit or paddle tops and bottoms) and carried a waist-mounted tow rope.

Also, the Fried Piper is about to roll again. Here is a list of schools for the duration of the trip. We'll be seeing many old friends along the way and hope to meet many more, so let us know of PLUs (people like us) in the areas we're heading to.

Nov. 6--University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, WA
Nov. 7--Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA
Nov. 8--Pacific University, Forest Grove, OR

Nov. 12--Reed College, Portland, OR
Nov. 13--University of Portland
Nov. 14--Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR
Nov. 15--Mt. Hood Community College, Portland

Nov. 19--University of Oregon, Eugene
Nov. 20--Southern Oregon University, Ashland

Nov. 26--California State University- Chico
Nov. 27--University of California Davis
Nov. 28--California State University Sacramento
Nov. 29--Bay School, San Francisco

Dec. 3--San Francisco State
Dec. 4/5--San Jose State
Dec. 6--University of California Santa Cruz

Friday, November 02, 2007

Day 17-Olympic Peninsula

We are spending a few days here, waiting for a part to be shipped from Golden Fuel in Missouri to General Delivery, Port Angeles, WA. But we're managing to keep ourselves occupied........

Corner of the Continental US

After various hijinx in the city and the outlying area, we skipped out on urban Halloween celebrations and headed for the Olympic Peninsula. A late night, curvy drive to Port Angeles found us in a town larger than we had expected with nowhere to sleep. After scouting dark side streets and contemplating some campgrounds in the vicinity, we settled for the Wal-Mart parking lot. Joining fifth wheels, trailers and RVs, we bedded down in America’s free campground, living the dream vacation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who apparently travels the United States staying in the smiley-faced lots.
Errands in the city and a great breakfast of toasted bagels with smoked salmon scrambled eggs and a French press of coffee cooked in the Safeway parking lot left us fed and ready to run whitewater. But the dam-controlled Elwah River wasn’t flowing high enough, so we burned grease out to the very tip of America: Neah Bay, Makah Native American lands. We bathed in the Pacific at Shi Shi beach after a hike through large red cedars and towering Sitka Spruce, the ground covered with all manner of fungus, even bright purple mushrooms. A fine meal cooked overlooking the breakers of the Pacific and early to bed for the eagerly anticipated paddle around Cape Flattery and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a trip recommended Nigel and Kristin a couple nights ago. To check out our route, click here.
It is a famed coastline, renown for its remoteness, wild storms, rich waters and huge rain forest trees. It is also home of the Makah, one of the few whale hunting tribes in the Pacific Northwest, traditionally hunting from long canoes. It is also home to my first big open water paddle, we set out at the Waatch River and wove our way through breakers, finding a smooth route past the swell. The forecast called for 11 foot swell at 12 second intervals and I was nervous, but the seas were fairly calm once we got out a bit. We worked our way north, towards the Cape and Tatoosh Island. Boomers exploded on rocks inshore from us and large cliffs and rocky beaches, littered with driftwood logs, lay behind the monoliths of the ocean. The entrance to Juan De Fuca, on the inside of Tatoosh, was a bit tricky with the incoming tide pushing in. We lunched on bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon in a sheltered cove on Tatoosh, dubbed Seal Cove, since we came upon a colony of seals hauled out on the rocks. They all dashed and flopped into the water and studied us with their canine-like eyes as we ate, with one fat , lazy white and grey stippled seal ignoring us from its rock perch.
We paddled back into the sea and safely passed into the Strait, where the water turned smooth, dark black with big, slow rollers turning aqua when washing up on rocks or into caves. A beautiful stretch, with lichen draped alders and huge evergreens hanging over cliff walls that tumbled into the sea, the rock forming arches and caves and little sandy coves. In the water, we paddled with seals and sea lions and were surprised by a whale’s spout as it worked the kelp beds for food. A V-shaped spray came from its blowhole, grey or minke perhaps. We also came upon a group of sea otters hauled out, floating on kelp. And all around us birds: huge clouds of them out at sea or over the trees, auklets and murres floating beside us and ducks, murrelets and more diving and flying. We both agreed it was one of the finer paddles we’ve ever done and got back to Neah Bay just before the rains started. A quick dinner under the shelter of a red cedar plank house made as a tribute to Veterans, opening kick-off of the Neah Bay football game Go Red Devils!) and we are back on the road, running on grease down to Forks where One T will join us for hiking up the Hoh River.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stuck in the Streets of Seattle

It’s 2 a.m. and we’re stranded on the streets of Seattle. The Fried Piper won’t start, the vegetable oil has congealed in the fuel lines on this cool, crisp night. We’re armed with our mechanicin’ tools (hair dryer, warm water bottles and jumper cables) and we are trying desperately to warm the system, since the Fried Piper has to be to a garage tonight to dry out for its Halloween Costume.
The oil has congealed because we didn’t purge the system, and let the van sit for too long with oil in its lines. A visit with kayak legend Nigel Foster and his partner, paddler and potter Kristin Nelson extended into the wee hours as we had a few beers, played music, planned a trip to the Olympic Peninsula and shared tales of recent adventures. After toast and tea, we were off to take the Fried Piper in for its wrap job. But the good times lasted too long and now we’re trying to create heat. Frantic calls to roadside assistance, plans of towing and pans of hot embers, all failing, desperation setting in, when the van finally fired up with the help of jumper cables and consistent cranking.
Hoorah! A grand completion to a fine evening with great folks.
We drove off down I-5 to Auburn, triumphant, with spirits high. We pulled into the garage and set up camp, laying down pads and sleeping bags in a dark room off the bay. Camping in the industrial district.

Campus Tour in Full Swing

We visited Western Washington University on Monday while our brakes were "fixed". Spoke to Jim Moore's class and were well received. Caught the bus back to the van and prepared a fine dinner of Alaskan clam and chantrelle pasta at the Chicken Ranch, with the family and Haines friends Scot"One T" Nichols, Coleus, and Meghan. A late night Mac session with One T set us up tech-wise and, after a bit of sleep, we were on the freeway again, down I-5 to Seattle Pacific University, where we spoke to the Outdoor Club. The Fried Piper got a bit of love from a Sikh body shop near Safeco Field, now ready for its glorious transformation

Monday, October 29, 2007

Day 12-East of Deception, West of the Town of Gibraltar

We've entered US roads and waterways again, where kilometres are miles and rivers are no longer recorded in cubic meters per second but cubic feet per second. Also,where six-packs are reasonably priced, the grease is soy based and the water tastes like wine.

Our return to the Lower 48, or Outside as it's called by Alaskans, has been calm, with time spent in the idyllic hamlet of Bellingham, eating beets, gathering squash and making homemade applesauce. Some displaced southerners, Joe and Heather, and their daughter Pearl and dog Lusa, have taken us into their wonderful home. We've been eating the last of the garden's bounty and enjoying the temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Today's adventure was a trip along the coastal route out to Deception Pass, where Natcho and I paddled the thin waterway separating the mainland of Washington from Whidbey Island. We caravaned to the water in the family minivan, a perfect advertisement for Toyota, as Natcho put it. The family with the kid in the car seat, kayaks on the roof and the two dirtbag friends in back.

A calm day, with glassy seas and a hazy sunshine breaking through the clouds, made for perfect paddling. "I guess this is my introduction to urban paddling," I said, as we paddled under a major bridge and past waterfront homes. But compared to Natcho's experiences in San Diego, suburban or pastoral might be more apt. We approached the straits tentatively, running the passage left of the island. Current pushed kelp flat, the blades like the hair of an underwater medusa, and we shot past rock walls and tidepools and into the relative calm of the bay. We played in the currents, ferrying across eddy lines and catching swirling back pools, getting used to our big boats again. Birds not seen since my time last exploring the Northwest in 2004 swam and dove around us: cormorants, murres and grebes. Seals and sea lions were our companions again and we enjoyed an afternoon in new waters, having fun and getting excited as we talked about potential adventures on Washington's Olympic Peninsula next weekend.

The family met us in Gibraltar, west of Whidbey, east of Deception and Joe, who works on large ships, shared with us his knowledge of the oil and gas industry in the region. Huge networks of boat lines, refineries and pipelines bringing crude from Alaska to Washington, where it is off loaded and refined. He pointed out "the eternal flame" burning at the Anacortes refinery while we drove back to town.

We had pizza and good northwest beers at a restaurant downtown, across from where we had scored grease the night before, filling our tank for free and listening to the World Series on the radio. We've tapped into our own eternal flame with the Fried Piper.

Ravens in the City

The Museum Of Anthropology is housed in a soaring concrete and glass "post and beam" structure on top of a hill on the UBC campus, with sweeping views of the coast. They have an extensive collection of carvings, totem poles, house post and beams, bentwood boxes, dugout canoes, potlatch serving dishes, and jewelry, mostly from the Salish tribes of southern BC and the Haida from Haia Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). We arrived just when they opened on Saturday morning, squeezing in a visit before leaving town. The "Raven w/ Early Humans" carving, by legendary Haida artist Bill Reid had been much anticipated since Matt described it to me some days earlier. It's carved from a huge block of yellow cedar and sits on a WWII gun turret the museum built around. A skylight above makes the sculpture glow.

We hooked up with David Wolowidnyk for lunch after the museum. He's an old friend from Cayman who paddled Glacier Bay with me in 2001. So, bellies distended from poutine, we navigated the street of Surrey, BC, past lots of very American stripmall development and huge, tightly packed houses sprouting like mushrooms, the Fried Piper maneuvering among the hordes of Canadians heading south to spend their soaring dollar in the malls of America.
The homeland security people had no interest in our homemade power plant, and we were back in the US without incident, soon plying the familiar alleys of Bellingham in search of a greasy fix. A locked dumpster and a few empty ones caused some fuel jitters, "maybe the supply is finally locked down!", but Matt stayed calm and eventually we were slurping an old familiar dumpster dry and heading for a fine reunion at the chicken ranch, with Joe, Heather, and baby Pearl.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Down the Mountain and into Vancouver

We braved the crazy roads from Whistler to Vancouver, past the massive and controversial road project readying the region for the 2010 Olympics, and into the beautiful city. A return for Matt, much anticipated first time for me. Took care of some errands and made our way to Glyn and Terri's house in West Van. I met Glyn when he came to Alaska this summer and went on a kayak trip with two old friends. He made the classic mistake of proffering an invite and we took him up on it. They are really wonderful folks, cheerfully taking in two stinky travellers despite the steady stream of family and work commitments they have. Nine-year old Alana and her eight-year old brother Isaac got to check out some of our slide show in between a full schedule of school, hockey games, piano lessons, tennis, soccer, etc. They are really cute, smart kids with a passion for maps (apparently Canada teaches its kids geography) so they enjoyed our stories and photos.
Our first IWLS presentation was Thursday at Simon Fraser University. We set up our tent in the student union to differentiate us from the Costco table and the people signing up students for credit cards. We realized that having some internal support from schools will make a big difference in our success. Luckily we have this at most of our schools. Anyway, we made some good contacts and got comfortable with the slide show.
We had given up on Skookumchuck, the legendary ocean inlet that forms a huge wave on incoming tidal currents of up to 17 knots, content to take in some of the more genteel offerings of the city. Glyn and his buddies from the Alaska trip, Ken and Jeff, heard this over beers at a pub and were disgusted. A free day, let alone a sunny one, is too precious in their world for a museum visit. So, we were up at dawn and on our way to Horseshoe Bay and the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. A really beautiful part of the world, worth the trip for the drive alone. We passed the quaint little town of Sechelt and into the tiny village of Egmont. From there, we paddled our whitewater boats two miles down the coast, surrounded by huge sea lions playing in the sun. We found the spot, a rock ledge that forms the wave as the current builds on a sufficient tide. Soon enough, the placid inlet became a maelstrom before our eyes, and we were out there with the sea lions, cradled in the bliss of the endless wave. We surfed, rested, surfed some more, took photos, saw a seal catch a huge salmon, and surfed one more time before the wave disappeared as quickly as it came. The 4 km hike out with our boats was exhausting, but a small price to pay for such a wonderful and historic day.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fried Piper in The News

We are in Vancouver, BC, this morning,after a eventful few days. Stories and photos to follow. If you use the link on the right to the Chilkat Valley News you'll see the grease van made the front page! It's a great small town paper that's worth a look anyway. The other links are useful, too. The IWLS website will give you a better idea of what this is all about, and Golden Fuels is one of the two major outfits in the country that sell conversion kits for diesel engines. If you enjoy adorable kid photos, check out Dylan's blog.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Road is Hard

Breakfast on the dash, somewhere between Smithers and Prince George.

The Road to Stewart & Hyder (last week)

A shot of the Fried Piper heading to Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK, past the largest roadside glacier in the world.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day 6- We find ourselves in Whistler

As hoped for, we found desert warmth and big rivers in southern British Columbia. After catching the second half of Game 6 in the Indians/Sox series (a challenge, since nearly every pub and eatery was showing Ultimate Fighting Championship 79628), we drove down the winding canyon on the Thompson River and arrived at a riverside camp after dark. The sound of whitewater and the smell of sage greeted us, as did the rotting carcasses of a late fall fish run.

A breakfast of sauteed fresh chantrelles and hedgehog mushrooms wrapped in tortillas with cheese warmed us up as did rounds of coffee from the french press. A friendly family from Vancouver--Dave and Shirley and their daughter Bridget, a rising softball phenom in B.C.-- chatted with us about our drive and the grease conversion and offered to run our shuttle for the day's river run.

In an ominous upstream wind that some might call a gale, we dropped the Fried Piper near the confluence of the Fraser and Thompson Rivers and traveled back to the put in with our new Canadian friends. They watched from the banks as we paddled into the first rapid, The Frog, and hucked our boats into the surf waves above the large, amphibian-shaped basalt plug.

The Thompson, a famed big water run in North America (according to our guide book), was plenty powerful, even at the low flows of October. Canyon walls hemmed us in, while the rush of whitewater drowned out the noise of the paralleling highway and traintracks. Big wavetrains and swirling eddies tossed us around, but we made it through the more challenging upper canyon in tact.
"How do you keep these eddy lines from squirting your boat," asked Bru, but before he could get an answer said eddy line grabbed his tail, squirted him up and sent him downstream.

Big winds replaced big water, so powerful they blew Matt vertical and over after a current line dipped his tail. Paddling the last few rapids with impaired vision, for the winds were sending blinding spray off the whitewater of the rapids, we reached the take out and hiked up to the sleepy town of Lytton.

A public park was turned into an interim home, where we hung our gear to dry and feasted on smoked salmon with cream cheese and crackers and the last of our homemade cookies from Haines.
We found baseball and beer at the only open establishment in all of Lytton, and eventually the locals warmed to us. Saw the the Red Sox win and thought of various friends and family celebrating, while mourning for a few long-suffering Indians we're close to. The friendly BC folks had given us some firewood which made for a nice night under the stars, eating curried red lentils while Matt picked the mandolin. Natcho turned 35 living in a van, down by the river.
Woke up to realize we had put down our bed rolls right in the spot dozens of local native kids pass through to catch the bus. Matt gave a salmon skin to their dog, who daintily carried it away, set it down, peed on it, and walked away. We enjoyed another great day of whitewater, battled some really unbelievable winds in the canyon, found out San Diego is burning, and took off on a crazy, winding drive to Whistler.
Now, we're getting ready for our first college presentation Thursday at Simon Fraser in Vancouver.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Day 4-The Fried Piper Glides into Prince George, BC

We arrived here, the first major outpost of civilization since Whitehorse 1000 miles ago, sad to say goodbye to the "wilderness" part of the journey, but excited for some upcoming paddling. The grease van (Fried Piper) has been running like an absolute champ since its brief hiccup on the Cassiar and the crew is falling into the rhythm of the journey. Good coffee from the French press, then breakfast down the road a piece. Yesterday it happened to be on a runway at a mining camp where the mineral bounty of BC (copper and melybdenum) is being extracted. It was cold and clear as we set up a breakfast cafe on the frozen landing strip. Puddle crunched underfoot as Peggy Lee purred from the speakers, the random shuffle of 3500 songs once again perfectly timed.
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it's a good day for shining your shoes, and its a good day for loosing those blues, everything to gain and nothing to lose...

Breakfast porridge greatly enhanced by the preserves we put up in August from currants and thimbleberries growing in Matt's yard. We hadn't checked in with security, and soon enough a big truck emblazoned with the company logo"Copper Fox" roared up. Turns out it was just the friendly camp cook, a sassy redhead who informed us that she, in fact, was the copper fox.

... so take a deep breath and throw away your pills, a good day from morning to night.

We rolled down the road, the calendar rolling back to autumn as we made southern headway and returned towards the temperate coastal area below the massive, snow covered coast range.
A side trip to the funny little coastal towns of Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska was approved (it's just grease) and was well worth the time. The Switzerland of Canada/Alaska? No bears at the viewing station, but loads of blackies on the road. Back on the Cassiar we visited a roadside mushroom buyer. This is a somewhat shady subculture Matt had infiltrated years ago on a mission partly journalistic. His description was apt, a rough looking family ensemble in a makeshift home at a highway pull-off. We checked out his Matsutakes, a vaunted mushroom bound for aphrodisiac-crazed Asia, and he gave us some Chanterelles. Matt talked me into giving him some our our precious frozen salmon fillets, but as we approached he layed into his wife with a barrage of expletives. We spun on our heels, and returned to the van, salmon in hand. I was able to play off my reluctance as a "bad vibe" rather than greed, and we were on our way.
Smithers, BC, once again proved to be grease paradise. Returned to the Blue Fin Sushi a year later and we also scored big at the Alpenhorn. Maxed out with 100 gallons(!) we went down the road to Hungry Hills and camped for the night, discovering this morning that we had chosen the very spot where a succession of enormous grizzlies had been terrorizing local ranchers for the past eight years.

Day 3-South to Autumn


Spent last night just past Dease Lake, B.C., just past the turnoff for Telegraph Creek and the mighty Stikine River, camped at an empty Lion's Club Campground on the banks of the Tanzilla River.
Pasta with rehydrated chantrelles, sauteed in olive oil with garlic, onion and anchovy paste with freshly grated asiago cheese for dinner. Slept in the van, warmed by 70 gallons of hot grease, but woke up cold, a heavy freeze overnight, with ice coating the puddles and clinging to the banks of the Tanzilla.
But overall, 200 km into the Cassiar Highway, winter is receding, thankfully. The snow-covered roads of the mountain passes of the Alcan behind us and the temperate, southerly coastal climes ahead.
Although not without cause for worry, when we entered the Cassiar, for the road looked more like a luge course than a highway: narrow, covered with snow and ice, winding and fast. A two-way luge run, with trucks barreling past as Natcho clutched the wheel, hugged the shoulder and cringed.
"You sure you don't want to stick to the Alcan, go soak at Liard, pards?"
" Oh no Natcho. You gotta see the Cassiar."
All systems go, but then failure, power loss and Natcho frantically switching the fuel line to diesel. All our theories on the loss of pressure in the grease line for naught. Clogged fuel filter. So an impromptu, dirty filter change using old buckets and a leatherman while the sun set and a large orange half-moon rose.
Back on the road in 45 minutes, pressure reading in the positive again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our System

Here is Matt fueling our main tank. We're driving a 1993 Ford Econoline Van that was modified with the help of Golden Fuel Systems in Missouri, and Haines mechanic Darren Shields. The tank has two chambers, each holding 50 gallons of waste vegetable oil and heated by engine coolant cycling through a chamber in the bottom. We pump dirty grease into the right chamber, heat it while we drive, then transfer it through a sock filter into the left chamber. Heating the oil lowers the viscosity, allowing it to pass through the sock like a hot knife through butter. On the left side of the photo is a Racor filter which further cleans the oil before it heads to the engine

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Day 1: Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. It's snowing and 1 degreee C

After a bit of delay, we departed Haines with all systems go: coolant flowing from the engine to the back of our bicolored maroon and white 1993 diesel Ford van; the 100 gallon, bisected tank in back filled with some 60 gallons of partially hydrogenated oils from the various restaurants in town, the tank reading nearly full on the filtered half and the PSI of the flow around 8; and the sweet smell of fried food emanating from the tailpipe. "The smell of freedom," as Natcho likes to say, veteran of grease trips, coaching along the neophyte.

We cruised out of the northern terminus of the Southeast Alaska around 11 a.m. Only after 34 miles did we discover our friend Liam Cassidy asleep in the back. We gave him a morning jolt of warm grease and, after a farewell blessing and naming ceremony, kicked him to the curb to hitchhike back to town. Cottonwoods, birches and willows in partial fall foliage brightened the landscape, where hundreds upon hundreds of bald eagles perched, congregating along the Chilkat River for the late coho and chum salmon runs. Our van was filled with cases of smoked salmon, much of it coho caught on rod and reel from the same river. A summer of harvesting led to a stocked root cellar in the back of the van: one case half-pints of canned clams, two cases of pints of canned pie cherries with a few pints of Royal Anne cherries, two cases half-pints of thimbleberry and red currant jams and jellies, the salmon and one large, commercial pickle jar filled with dehydrated chantrelle mushrooms. A fat larder next to that tank of grease.

Eagles and a clearing river, fresh snow on the peaks as we left the valley. On the pass, fresh snow and migrating raptors. Natcho and I following the pacific flight path. We monitored the van, listening to rattles and clicks with an attuned, if not slightly paranoid, ear as we topped 60 mph for the first time on grease. No loss of pressure, temperature or power as we climbed over the pass and into the Yukon Territory. Any fears we might have had were assuaged after listening to Darren "DP" Shields talk shop last night with a few other motorheads, describing fuel systems for vehicles involving pressuring air captured from the stovepipes of wood stoves and arguing the mechanical feasibility of crafts in the movie "Waterworld".

We pulled into Whitehorse in the early evening, troubling busy Asian restaurants for used grease, having marginal success before a big score at Colonel Saunders. Many gallons and some spilled grease later, we felt good with nearly 80 gallons of grease for our next, most remote stretch of road, the Cassiar Highway.

The Next Chapter

Where we embark on a university tour to promote programs offered to students by the International Wilderness Leadership School in converted Ford Econoline Van with four kayaks on the roof, a foldable bicycle, skateboard and several cases of canned salmon.