Saturday, December 16, 2006


By the time the summer of 2004 arrived, I had proclaimed myself a seasoned hiker.

Hiking had been a growing hobby since I moved in August of 2000. That first summer, I was so out of shape, I could barely climb the steps to our apartment without starting to sweat. But slowly and miraculously, I got fit in the summers ahead and tackled some of Colorado's famed 14ers, mountains that stretch above the 14,000-foot level.

Four years into hiking, I felt ready to tackle some out-of-state terrain.

Erik P. and I hatched a great plan. We would hike Timberline Trail, a 40-mile loop around Oregon's Mount Hood. During our time on the Banks, I don't think E.P. and I ever once mentioned an interest in hiking to each other. But since we departed Jersey, we had both developed an appreciation for it.

Plans were set a few months beforehand, and I had much anticipation for this great new adventure in the Pacific Northwest.

Flying into PDX, Mount Hood was easily visible out of the left side of the airplane. It was my first glimpse at the great giant. Its elevation is only 11,249, smaller than the 14ers I've done, but it is much more majestic. Unlike a lot of the Rocky Mountains, Hood dwarfs any other peaks in the area and stands alone on the horizon.

Stealing a glimpse of Hood on that early July afternoon only heightened the anticipation. I couldn't wait for that next day.

It was great to see E.P. when I arrived and meet his wife-to-be. We visited REI to get a few last-minute provisions that cool summer night, and in the morning we set off for Government Camp, Oregon, where the trailhead was located.

We planned to do the loop over a three-day stretch, and had plenty of supplies for the duration. Flashlight, check. Boots, check. Plenty of water, check. Tent, backpack, you get the picture. I also had my ski hat with me, gloves, long underwear, etc. It was probably in the 60s to 70s in Portland when we left, but it made good sense to expect cold nights at high elevations. Our pre-hike food-and-shelter plans seemed up to snuff.

An hour-plus east of Portland, we arrived at the Timberline Lodge next to the trailhead in the late morning. In the middle of a full-bore blizzard.

It was snowing sideways. People were skiing past us in the parking lot, which was engulfed by a couple feet of snow. It was frigid. Ice immediately formed in my stubble. It was July. I don't know if I've ever been colder in my life.

I looked over at Erik. He had I-just-saw-a-ghost, deer-in-the-headlights fright plastered all over his face. I was thrilled with his reaction. In no way was I mentally or physically prepared to spend three days traipsing around in a snowstorm.

We huddled inside the lodge, where skiers were warming themselves near the fire, immediately decided that we were in way over our heads and made a new plan from scratch.

We drove about 15 miles down the road -- the snow vanished at a slightly lower elevation and temperatures instantly returned to mild summer conditions -- and we enjoyed three days worth of day hikes in the Hood River area.

It worked out great. I'd say our hikes were probably no more than eight miles long each day. We got in some great camping, hung out in the excellent town of Hood River, drank microbrews at the Full Sail Brewing Company and generally enjoyed the lush, green Pacific Northwest and Columbia River Gorge.

The entire time, Mount Hood loomed on the horizon from any direction, as if it was watching our every move.

It was an incredible trip with a good friend.

I've been thinking about it quite a bit these last few days because of those poor guys stuck on Mount Hood, fighting for their lives.

Obviously, there are some major differences between them and us. They started their venture as a group of experts attempting a summit in the middle of winter. Serious business. We were fair-weather fans committed to nothing more than a fun summer hike around the base.

But I think both cases show that you never know exactly what to expect, even when you think you do. As the current crisis shows, it can still be dangerous, despite the best of preparations. Here's to hoping they get home safely.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Mitt

By now you have heard that Mrs. VFR and I are moving to Michigan. It is probably fair to say this is as big a surprise to us as it is to everyone else. Amid finding a place to live and making moving arrangements, there have been a few times that we've looked at each other and said, "Can you believe we're moving? ... To Michigan?"

It is fair to say we're a bit blindsided by this new reality, but we are very excited. It's a great town, great job, great paper. I don't think I could have envisioned a better overall situation. We're ready to dive in head-first.

A couple people have asked how and when this all came about. I sent in my stuff a while ago, and got the first phone call a couple of days before the Nov. 4 event. There was a hiatus for about 10 days, then it progressed once things settled down. We visited in late November. The offer came about 10 days later.

A couple people have also asked what all this means for flying. It means that I'm going to stop considering it as a career and return it to favorite hobby status. At this point, it wouldn't make sense to go from square 11 in journalism back to square one in aviation.

I will most certainly keep all of my licenses current and use them often to travel around our new state. I've already checked out a few landing strips in the area.

Once I settle into the new gig, maybe I'll even look to do a little freelance instruction if the opportunity presents itself. We'll see. Right now, my focus is on the new job and helping Mrs. VFR get settled.

So that probably spares all of you future snooze-inducing posts on stall-spin dynamics and acronyms like TOMATO FLAMES plus FLAPS and GRABCARD in FAR 91.205 (c) and (d).

You may even be rewarded by the move, because it will only enhance my music-related entries. Out here, I can only count Big Head Todd and the Monsters and The Fray as hometown influences.

In Michigan, we will be in the home of Motown, The Supremes, Gladys Knight and The Pips, Bob Seeger, Madonna, Eminem, Ted Nugent of Damn Yankees fame, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5. Not saying I'm a rabid fan of all those, but when you put that group up against the Colorado exports, it's a slam-dunk.

Our movers arrive one week from today. We will hit that sweet highway, as Dave Brown would say, the day after Christmas.

Hope you all have a great holiday.

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