Friday, December 28, 2012

Idyllwild Christmas Trip, Day #2

Today was a slooooowww day that started out mid-morning. Nobody was moving fast in the chilling cold. Our friends, the Wrights, were on the hook for breakfast and we finally managed to arrive about 10:30 - only an hour late! ;-)

This was followed by a quick trip to the coffee shop in town and the purchase of a Forest "Adventure Pass," which is basically a parking pass for parks. They call it an Adventure Pass to "sex it up" but it's nothing more than paying for something that we've already paid for through our taxes. You can call it a "fee," but like putting lipstick on a pig, it's still a tax coming from our inefficient government!
3 Amigos on a rock...
We later tried to go hiking along the Ernie Maxwell trail, but the road to the trail head at Humber Park was icy - cars were slipping and sliding all over. So, the decision was to hike up the road from the Wright's cabin to Humber which we mostly did. It was cold and uphill all the way, with cars spinning out around us. After about 45 minutes, we turned around.

Got some exercise in before shopping down in the Village though, so that's good! Emily got yet another cute hat that is a beacon of her personality, Kim picked up a cool hand-made jacket & scarf, and I made out w/ an Aussie-sourced vest.

All in all, a relaxing day that ended w/ a delectable spaghetti dinner at the La Rue cabin, a cribbage game (damned you Jon!), and a goofy movie with Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz. ;-)  Tomorrow, we pack and slide back down the hill towards the coast!

Random pics from the day...

Graffiti - Idyllwild style.  (me likie!)

Etho - ready for action w/ Lily the Labrador

Amazing twig

Finnegan the Mighty!

Frozen twigs

Kim and Bella

Ethan, Bella, and Mom

Misty Mountain Majesty

Mountain Mike's Curio shop

The no-nonsense Big Guy!  ;-)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Idyllwild Visit, Part #1

Liam & Emily, pausing briefly from Snowman making
This year after Christmas, Kim and I decided to take the family (the entire family including dogs!) to Idyllwild, CA. It's a charming little town that I've visited many times on the bike and even a few times on trips similar to this one.  We again rented a cabin from "Sparky's Cabins," a quality outfit run I think by a former Airborne Ranger. As we climbed the mountain out of Hemet, the fog lay thick. By the time we got up to the "Hill" as the locals call it, snow flurries were swirling around the Expedition.

We'd split up from our traveling companions, Jon, Sheri, and Liam Wright back in Hemet when Ethan needed a pair of jeans (he was wearing shorts heading to snow flurries - that's my Boy Scout!).  After checking out our cabin, we caught up w/ the Wrights and did a little shopping in town.

Tunes from the past...
 The boys went one way, and Kim, Emily & Sheri went another. Eventually, Jon and I invited the girls into a wine & beer bar that we found called "Idyll Awhile." Cool place, made even cooler by the sounds of a blues record playing on a turntable!  While the kids had to make due outside (it was a 21-year and older place; who was I to argue?), I had a Hefeweißen, Kim her customary Chardonnay, and Jon had this amazing Christmas ale whole alcohol content made him loopy. ;-)

Suave Jon
We retired from the bar and ventured over to the cabin that the Wrights had rented for dinner. The kids played outside in the snow, a rarity.  Theirs was a smallish place, but way quaint with a better build than our larger joint (think of a "double-wide" if ya know what I mean. ;-)

After macking down on some Frito chip "taco" recipe that Sheri's aunt had invented (which was delicious), we motored home in the continued snow flurries.  We came upon an AMG Mercedes having trouble getting our of a shallow ditch, so I pulled over and Ethan and I gave a hand. With no small effort pushing from the rear, we helped the couple drive it a few meters up the road to park for the evening. A friend came and picked them up.

Once back at our cabin, with the dogs fed, we settled into a movie ("Four Brothers") and a reasonably quiet night. As I write this, my eyes are lidded with the long day and Fat Tire ale I'm drinking.  More to come... ;-)

Cool wine selection

Kim, happy to be on vacation!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Plaster Blaster 2012

My V2 Rocket lifting off at Plaster Blaster XI
One of the things I love most about the Boy Scouts is that I invariably do things that I wouldn't ordinarily step up to. The "Salty Rat" a couple of years ago comes to mind - when Ethan led a group of canoe'ers around Mission Bay in San Diego in a training exercise. Or the infamous "Hiking Merit Badge" led by my buddy Dave Sanford which nearly killed half the troop: Five 10-mile hikes, followed by a 20-miler. Or the Mud Caves and the Wind Caves out in Anza Borrego. Or the family camp at Fiesta Island where we cruised around Mission Bay in kayaks trying to tip one another over. Or Trona where we dug into crystallized lakes about 3 hours North of San Diego to extract really cool salt crystals. ;-)

USG - Gypsum processing plant
You get the picture. Good stuff. However, right up there at the top of the heap MUST be my first Plaster Blaster weekend a couple of weeks ago!  It's a camp out near Plaster City, CA between the town of Ocotillo and El Centro. Basically, your average middle-of-nowhere flat desert plane. The only thing for miles is a Gypsum mining and processing operation.

Only on this particular weekend, Plaster City was over-run by Rocketeers. Young and old, experienced and rookies, all had one thing in mind: blast stuff into the air!

I had spent a couple of weeks building an Estes V2 rocket in the garage, inspired by my friend Robert Slavey who brought his wife's V2 to a recent Boy Scout Troop meeting. I had to have one. The next day I went to Hobby Town in Kearny Mesa and bought the kit and all the fixin's (paint, glue, big engines, etc.). I really wanted to paint the rocket silver and red...

The final night or two before Plaster Blaster I finished adding the fins to the fuselage - not easy to get them arranged at 90-degree angles to one another. The parachute was affixed and the shock cord tied off. Then, painting and sanding and re-painting. It was starting to look like a real (and bad-ass) rocket!

In the meantime, Ethan had a pre-built "Alpha III" Estes starter kit that required about an hour to build. He was feeling a bit under the weather so I built it while in-between stages on the V2. Soon, we had TWO rockets to fly!

Saturday morning came. We were to meet up with the rest of the Troop at our normal place, Hilltop Community Park in Rancho Penasquitos at 6:30am.  Wicked early, but realistic for getting out and set up with a 10am rocket blast starting time. I awoke Ethan in plenty of time, but he was sick - not deathly so, but enough that a weekend in the cold, dusty desert was not going to do him any good. Sadly I left him and met the others.

The Flight Line - Twilight
Once out in Plaster City, we lined up the vehicles so that a small camp could be made, and put up EZ-ups as well as our tents. The rockets were already firing in a random pattern. Most small, launched from the low-powered range, and some from the mid- and high-powered range. When the high powered guys took off, everyone watched as they streaked into the sky thousands of feet!

I was nervous about launching my rocket into the air - the balsa wood fins and cardboard fuselage just didn't seem up to the task of an explosive launch and descent from hundreds or thousands of feet. I took my time doing the final preparations. At the same time, the guy next to me was prepping his 12' fiberglass rocket, taping telemetry, transponder, and cameras to the machine before his epic launch. I later found out he was gunning for his Level 3 Certification and his rocket blasted to over 13,900 feet—whoa!

Launch control, but you supply the countdown!
A rocket launch is eventually a lonely matter. You are directed to a launch pad which consists of a table, some wires leading back to the launch box, and a long vertical wire that you affix your rocket to. And when you push that button to send it hurtling into the atmosphere, it's only you and the rocket.

The V2 streaks.

My first launch, I'll admit, was epic!  Very straight going up (see 90-degree fin note above!) and a sweet landing in the middle of the dirt road snaking through the camp. I asked the RPO ("Range Patrol Officer") to actually push the launch button because I wanted to take the pictures you see in this post.

Safe landing!
 The rest of the day was taken up by re-packing the parachute and loading new engines for a couple more flights. The Pack itself was doing awesome, building/repairing/firing until the sun went down.

Alpha III on the pad.

I also shot Ethan's "Monster Energy Drink" rocket up a few times to make sure it worked - LOL! 

Ethan's rocket, landed.
Plaster Blaster was a really fun trip and it's gotten me excited about building and launching even bigger rockets in the future. Here are a few pictures from the weekend that will give you a taste of the fun.

Slavey walking to the launch pad with mid-range rocket.
Preparing his mid-range rocket for take-off.
Mr. Slavey's Recovery Team!
Picture of USG plant.
Drag Race!
Slavey's V2
Slavey's V2, redux.
The "Walk of Shame" after Slavey's V2 rocket broke up  in mid-air.
Gorgeous Sunset!
The Rocketeers!
Can you tell I'm having fun!

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Santa Rosa & Thomas Mountain Ride

Recently an old friend reached out to me, wondering if I was still riding (natürlich!). Jeff had bought a fully kitted KLR 650 thumper up in Idaho earlier in the year and rode it home here to San Diego - my kind of guy!

He was itchin' to explore some roads in our local environs and after kicking tires over lunch at Sushi Deli #3 in Kearny Mesa, we hatched a plan: hop on the big bikes and explore the dirt roads above the town of Anza near Ilyllwild along the Palms to Pines highway some upcoming Saturday.

My next call was to long-time riding partner Mark who damned sure needed to throw a leg over his very capable R1200GS and show us how it's done. He had been camping up in the area a few weeks earlier with his kids and thought Little Thomas Mountain would be perfect on the bikes. From there, we'd let serendipity take over and explore. Ha! We sure got our fill that day, gentle reader!

Top of Thomas Mtn.
Being on the 650 single, Jeff's a big fan of choosing two-laners over the super slab. He led us out from our early morning rendezvous near the North County Fair shopping center to the frontage roads between Escondido and Temecula. I'd seen these roads that parallel North Hwy 15 for decades, but never taken the time to explore. They lead by some charming but poor neighborhoods, a golf driving range, the fabled Lawrence Welk resort, through Fallbrook and more — never touching the super-highway. Very cool!  Jeff was a speedy and capable leader here and knew the roads well. I kept a reasonable pace, as did Mark, but we were both surprised at one point by a 20 mph decreasing radius corner made even more "puckering" by the fuel tank semi-trailer cutting into our lanes.  We heeled the bikes over OK, hearing the siren call of the challenges that were to await us the rest of the day!

After a quick coffee and gas stop featuring a "Hot Babe Driving a Bentley" viewing, we motored out Hwy 79 eastward to the 371 which would take us through Anza. It was truly a glorious morning with the clear air, light wind and rising sun foreshadowing the heat we would face later in the day. Where Hwy 371 intersects with Hwy 74 (AKA "Palms to Pines" highway), there's a nice little joint called the Paradise Valley Café where the team shared a quick omelet and downed some cool water before heading to Little Thomas Mtn. Onward!

Mark led to the turn-off and almost immediately we began climbing up the curvy Jeep trail with trees on either side. The dirt was fairly hard packed, but rutted from recent rains. Placing the bike on the best lines demanded no small amount of concentration, competing with quick glances to Lake Hemet and the layered mountains in the distance. Both Jeff and Mark were quite a bit quicker than I was despite my new Heidenau K60 tire fitted to the rear of the F800GS. This tire is my first true "knobby" on the bike and absolutely rocks in the dirt.  My speed up the mountain was limited by what's between my ears, not the bike between my legs!

At the top of the mountain, we saw a radio/repeater station and parked on some concrete pads which might have been foundations for building long ago. Taking off the helmet, I was struck once again about how much altitude changes one's perspective. Looking down on the desert puzzle-patchwork of Anza from the trees was a joy, made even better by the camaraderie of friends.

This is the goal.
As we were getting ready to ride, a foursome of 4x4's rolled up. We'd seen this crew at the Paradise and admired their rigs from afar — now we got a chance to see them up close. Wow - slick units! My favorite was a 2-door Jeep Rubicon with a stretched wheelbase and a very cool single-axle trailer. Turns out these are fairly popular among the off-road world and are made by a company called "Adventure Trailers." This thing was da bomb: off-road clearance, affixed tent on top, slide-out refrigerator and camp stove, marine batteries & propane, 18 gal of water and another 10 gal. of gas, and a hitch mount that would permit the trailer to rotate 45 degrees to the Jeep.  Crazy cool - a new bucket list item!

After the "tire-kickin'", we headed down Thomas Mtn, past some additional transmitter stations and through a nice neighborhood of summer (winter?) cabins. It was good to get on the pavement again, but I was also itching for our next tracks.
Kev coming down Thomas Mtn. Photo credit: Jeff

Our new friends were also very knowledgeable about the local area and gave us a couple of tips for our next route. We never found the first road we looked for which was Indian reservation land, but their directions led us eastward on Hwy 74 to a gritty, challenging trail up Santa Rosa mountain.

Jeff led the way without hesitation, directing his steed seemingly straight up the hill and out of site. As usual, I brought up the rear picking my way over rocks, around ruts, and around corners plagued with soft sand.

Non-descript entrance to Santa Rosa Truck Trail
The way the road switch-backed up the mountain, into valleys, and back up into adjacent ranges, I quickly gave up catching the other boys and concentrated on riding my own ride—slow and steady, with some snatches of speed.  The bike is capable of soooo much more, but until I get more time in the dirt, my comfort level remains that of a street rider toying at dirt riding! ;-)

Top of the hill, baby!
Though I'd fallen well off the pace of the guys, we all had a common goal to reach the top of the mountain. Our 4x4 friends had said the views of the Salton Sea and Palm Springs were amazing and that drove us on. I figured at every intersection, if there was a choice of "go up" or "go down," I'd choose up every time!  Mark waited for me at one of the intersections, but our next stop was the top. Jeff had been up there for awhile, checking out the views and hanging out with a very large piece of heavy construction equipment on tractor treads called an Excavator - they have a boom, bucket and a cab on a rotating platform. Very cool—exactly the same gear that my Dad is using to carve out his runway back in Ohio!

I have to admit that in the mid-afternoon with no lunch and not a lot of water in me, I was feeling pretty fatigued. It's best on these roads to stand up on the pegs and lower your center of gravity. However, this ride was kicking my butt (and quads) so I found myself just standing on the rougher stuff...  The road one-way up Santa Rosa Mtn. is about 15 miles of the same rutted, rocky track that we did earlier in the day. In fact, I needed to hang out a while to recover and drank the last of my water before descending the mountain. I knew I'd need to take it easy and careful—every accident I'd ever had on a bike was at the end of the day, and that played in my mind on the way down. On the other hand, I was feeling more comfortable on the bike in the dirt (so that was a plus!).

Jeff pointing out the Palm Springs airport.
Once again, Jeff led the way while off-road back to Hwy 74. Mark had picked out Jilberto's Mexican restaurant in Anza and made a beeline for it once we hit the tarmac. I was feeling pretty good again, having "survived" another descent and back on canyon-carving roads where high speeds work in my favor. Jilberto's had only recently opened with a restaurant on one side and a bar/dance hall on the other. It's a big place for Anza and I hope they succeed; the food was excellent!

There was some talk during the day of taking some dirt roads and two-lane highways back from Anza, but the team was pretty tired methinks. Plus, time was getting on and we were still a couple hours from home.  However, Wilson Valley road tugged at our memory banks as a road to try, so off we went. TOP SECRET!  This road is EPIC. Twisty, clean, lonely, and it bypasses a really boring part of 371.  ;-)  Sshhhh... don't tell anyone!

The ride back after Wilson Valley road (and its companion, Sage road) was pretty uneventful, but a good cap on the day's amazing journey. Even though we blazed down the highway at 85 mph, it's was a nice time to reflect on all the great on- and off-road motoring that took up our day.

Onward, ever onward!
Mark at speed. Photo credit: Jeff
KLR at speed, tired and headin' home. Photo credit: Jeff

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Up & Down with Dad

After the Photo Plus Expo trade show in New York last October, I decided to layover at my Dad's place in Ohio for a couple of days. While the trip was short, the memories of our take-off and landings in multiple aircraft still standout for me. 

As a life-long pilot, flying to Carl is as natural as driving a car for most of us; maybe more natural and safe given the level of training and concentrated practice he's had vs. the average distracted driver! 

Lancair IV-P parked at CMH
He picked me up at Lane Aviation at Columbus Int'l Airport in the Lancair, a high-performance home-built he completed some 15 years ago. We scooted straight down to Cambridge Municipal and directly after landing went up in a Zenith plane that his friend Bill Yahner built in his workshop.

Dad was in the process of "test flying" it so naturally hopping in a not-yet-certified aircraft was right in keeping with "how we roll." After landing again, he took off on a gas run to Yahner's airstrip which is literally cut out of the forest behind his house.

Over the next day or two, he would introduce me to a deadstick landing on a grass airstrip in his 1946 Aeronca Champ as well as another trip up to Columbus to drop me off for my flight back to San Diego.

Without further ado, here are videos of each take-off and landing of import.  Thanks for the fun and thrills on a short trip, Dad!

Carl La Rue: Pilot