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Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review: CleverMade Collapsible Cooler

We traveled to Montana this time without a cooler, since most of our luggage space was taken up by camping equipment. We knew that after we'd eaten all the camping food we'd have room, so when we shopped for a cooler we bought the CleverMade Collapsible Cooler.  In retrospect, a backpack cooler would have been a better choice. 

The cooler won us over because it collapsed neatly, and had sufficient room for a lunch. It was somewhat insulated, but not so much so that you could do without fake icepacks. It also picked up quite a bit of condensation so I had to clean it out any time. On the other hand, given the temperature, we really needed the cooler, so I don't regret buying it. It's just that a backpack cooler would have been a better choice.


Monday, August 30, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park - Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure you get your park entry permit before booking flights. I didn't find out about the entry permits until much too late, but you can do better than I did
  • An SUV is essential. Being able to get to Bowman Lake/Kintla Lakes was well worth it.
  • Book a few nights on the East side of the park to get access to Many Glacier area as well
  • I wish the Canadian border was open. Try to wait for it to be open before going.
  • After all these years, Glacier National Park is still my favorite park (by far) in the continental USA. It's the closest thing to the alps. It's being loved to death, and park employees tell me that what used to the shoulder season is now still busy. It's still one of the few places in the USA that doesn't make me think: "I should be in the Alps instead."

Friday, August 27, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: July 5th - Ross Creek Scenic Area and Epilogue

 To my surprise, it didn't take all that long to pack in the morning. All the camping equipment had already been stowed, and it was just a matter of taking clothing out of the dressers (which were already sorted into soiled and clean laundry), and then systematically loading stuff into the bags for the flight. The drive out to Ross Creek scenic area was lovely, and the short 1 mile walk took us amongst trees large enough to crawl into, and walk into.

To my amusement, the campground right next to the scenic area was called "Bad Medicine Campground". I had to drive out to see it and take a photo, having already been to Two Medicine and Upper Two Medicine. We speculated as to whether there was "Good Medicine" or "No Medicine" campgrounds somewhere else in the state.
From there, the drive back to Spokane took us back via a different route, avoiding Coeur D'Lene in favor of going around Lake Pend Oreille, which was gorgeous and looked very undeveloped. Just past Eloika Lake, after Boen started clamoring for Huckleberry Ice Cream again I spotted The Ram, which promised burgers and huckleberry shakes and ice cream. The portions were generous, and the ice cream very good.

After that, it was only a 20 minute drive to the Spokane Costco where we filled up the rental car, did a visit to see the Falls on a 90F day. I was much more impressed by downtown Spokane than expected, but everyone else looked tired and didn't want to linger in the heat, so I drove us back to the Spokane Airport. Once unloaded and into our room, it was clear nobody wanted to go out any more, so I returned the rental car and scouted our route to the bag drop area for our 6:05am departure flight.

We got up at 4:45am on the 6th, got to the gate with about 5 minutes before our boarding was called, and flew an uneventful flight back to San Jose. From there, Arturo picked us up and took us home. What a trip!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: July 4th - Cabinet Mountains and Big Sky Water Park

 All through our trip the guidebook would mention huckleberry bushes along one route or another, but we never saw any huckleberries whatsoever during our trip. The day started with a long 1.5 hour drive, first along long straight highways and then on a dirt road that then turned into a one way route. By the time we arrived at Trail 656, I was worried that we were too low and the day would be hot, but it wasn't too bad.

The hike started in a wooded area, crossed a bridge over a river, and then went steadily (but moderately) uphill.

The whining commenced almost immediately. Something similar had happened way back in June of 2020, when between jobs I'd taken the boys out every day for hiking or cycling. But I wasn't fooled. We'd just had 2 rest days when the boys hadn't done much, and I was positive that when I took them to the water park that afternoon they would be full of energy.

It was Bowen with his sharp eyes who spotted the first huckleberry. He tried it and pronounced it good. After that, the complaining stopped as the hike devolved into a search for ripe huckleberries, which were scarfed down as quickly as they were found. I was glad for the relief, and by the time we got to the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness sign, we'd had enough huckleberries, though Boen started asking for ice cream as the day did get warmer.

As we approached Geiger Lakes, we started seeing signs of camping - hammocks, tents, and noises from people having breakfast or lunch. Mosquitoes became much more vicious. At the first Geiger Lake we stopped for a picture. 

The area was gorgeous and did not require a permit for camping. The mosquitoes weren't great, however, and the water was warm enough for swimming, though neither of the kids were tempted. They just wanted to get back down to more huckleberries and the promised water park.

The hike back down was fast, but not so fast that Bowen's sharp eyes couldn't produce more huckleberries. I was very impressed. Upon returning to down, we discovered that on July 4th, most restaurants were closed, and we ended up with a 45 minute wait to get served at a local pizza place, which had great pizza.

After that, it was a change to swim suits and application of more sunblock before heading down to Big Sky Waterpark. The prices were high but by entering after 3:00pm we'd gotten the twilight discount and also the $2 per person discount that was on the web-site that just had to be mentioned to get it.

As anticipated, the boys immediately had all the energy in the world, with Boen and Bowen making full use of their 2.5 hours to do every slide multiple times. My feet got sore from walking on the concrete ramps, but I had to admit that the slides, while old and kinda bumpy, were even faster and more thrilling than the ones we'd tried in Germany. In particular, they had 2 tube slides that required that you carry the tubes (and I did not even try to help Boen carry them --- he enthusiastically carried them himself), that because of the nature of tubes on water were much much faster than any of the body slides.

We made use of every second of the slide time, and then went for dinner in Whitefish, finishing just after the huckleberry ice cream shop closed. The kids cried so much that I had to stop at a MacDonalds to get them some vanilla ice cream to placate them.

The one advantage of the water slide was that after all that the kids slept easily. I had a ton of packing to do the next morning before the drive back to Spokane, but I too was worn out enough that I opted to sleep first and pack the next day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Glacier National Park 2021: July 3rd - Bowman and Kintla Lakes

 Nearly every guidebook said that Bowman Lake was the prettiest lake in the National Park, but it was difficult to get to. In fact, Google Maps indicated that it would have been a 2 hour drive to get to Bowman Lake from Kalispell, and I wanted to get to Polebridge when the Outfitter was open at 8:00am. There was no point getting there earlier than that, because the National Park Service required all watercrafts to be inspected prior to launching, and the inspection station outside the park would only open at 8:00am.

All my prior practice driving on dirt roads now paid off, as we left the hotel at 6:30am, and arrived at 7:50am in Polebridge after quite a bit of dirt driving. The Outfitter's staff had just arrived, and they quickly brief'd us on the use of the kayaks, gave us oars, mounted the kayaks onto the roof of the Subaru, showing me how the roof racks worked, and had us on the way. The watercraft inspection was smooth and they tagged the kayaks with a permit.

We arrived at Bowman lake at precisely the right time. The lake was still as a mirror, and was as breathtakingly beautiful as everyone had said it was. By the time we finished shooting pictures, unloaded the kayaks, and got Bowen and Boen into their wet-suit, there had been just enough wind to take away that mirror-like finish on the lake, so clearly getting up in time to leave at 6:30am was the right thing to do!

The kids fought over who got to ride with mommy and who got to ride with daddy. It was so frustrating to get there only to have both kids throw a temper tantrum, but eventually we cajoled them onto our various kayaks and pushed off. I enjoyed the kayaking, but Xiaoqin hadn't quite anticipated how heavy it would be, nor did she realize how little Bowen would help.
A mile down the river, we found a beach, got the kayaks off, and then had a quick drink and swapped kids. Bowen had abandoned the idea of doing any paddling, and we paddled down the lake another mile before switching side of the lake to return. We were warned against going all the way down the lake, as it was very likely that a wind would come up and we'd face a long slog back to the launch point, and I reflected that I would probably be able to make it bag, but Xiaoqin hadn't the requisite upper body strength, technique, and endurance to do much more than what we were going to do. As it was, I ended up using the equipment strap to rig a towline between our kayaks so I could row both kayaks back.

Once back ashore, it was already warm, and warm enough that a swim felt good. I discovered to my surprise that despite my viewing of the water temperature earlier on being close to 46F, the temperature felt actually much warmer than that and I could swim for a good 10 minutes. It was by far the most comfortable lake in the National Park that I'd swam in.

When we were all done and the kayaks deflated and put back into the car, it was 3:00pm. That was just enough time to drive over the Kintla Lake for a look see. The drive there was arduous and slow, and my wife questioned if we'd make it back in time for our dinner appointment, but I was determined to see it. The lake looked gorgeous and when we felt the water it was even warmer than Bowman Lake!

The ranger station was most picturesque, along with the motor launch vessel tied up at the NPS dock. I asked at the campground how hard it was to get a spot, and the lucky campers told me it was no problem at all. Given how hard it was to get to, apparently you can always get a spot. The camping fees were also much cheaper than our backcountry sites, at $10/vehicle rather than $6/person!

We reluctantly left Kintla Lake, went to return our kayaks with plenty of time, and also made our dinner appointment at Jag's in plenty of time. I told the kids that we could make one more run at Glacier National Park if we got up by 5:30am so we could make it into the park at 6:00am and we could then do Gunsight Lake. But I wasn't optimistic, given how worn out everyone looked.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: July 2nd - Whitewater rafting the flathead middle fork river

 We headed out to the Great Northern Rafting Resort, which ran multiple whitewater rafting trips. On the way there, Bowen kept telling Boen that he promised that Boen would like it. We got fitted with life jackets, water shoes for the adults, and everyone had plenty of sunscreen on.

Our guide was Marcy, and we were assigned a boat with only 6 rafters, so we would be the last to enter all rapids since we had room to pick up anyone who fell off. I knew when signing up that any rafting trips that would take kids as young as 6 years old would be pretty tame, but I don't think Bowen understood how tame it was to be.

Once on the boat, Bowen had asked for an oar, but I think he found the prospect of having to paddle much less exciting than the concept of being able to paddle, and he quickly got bored, as even the white water parts weren't particularly exciting, especially after doing class 4 in a kayak two years ago. Nevertheless, it was Boen and Xiaoqin's first time on a white water trip, and Boen enjoyed bouncing up and down in the raft. Marcy had to implore Bowen to hang on to the handles on the raft several times. I sympathized with her because Bowen didn't feel the need.

Near the end of the trip, on some flat water, I jumped in the water upon Marcy's prompting and took a swim. So did Bowen and Boen, and the end of the trip was marked by anti-climatic beaching. I had wanted a white water trip to make an easy day and to take off some of the heat, but unfortunately, it had been a little bit too easy.

Xiaoqin had picked out a restaurant with a great open-faced steak sandwich, and after that we had Huckleberry Ice Cream downtown Whitefish, which was great and would be the best ice cream during the entire trip.

I looked in the book to see what hikes we could do on Sunday, but everything was a long drive. We ended up deciding on the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness, since that was an easy hike, had the shortest drive, and while I had originally thought it would be a great hike to do on the way back to Spokane, I realized that I didn't want to add time pressure on what would be a long driving day.

Monday, August 23, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: July 1 - Noname Lake to Two Medicine Boat Launch

 The kids woke up in the morning declaring that I had snored like a bear the night before. "Well, that's why I have a CPAP machine the rest of the time, I told them." Just before getting out of bed, Boen said to me the words every parent dreads: "Daddy, I peed a little in the sleeping bag," It wasn't a little (I used a towel to mop up the spills), but at least he did it the last night of the camping trip!

Everyone knew that there was a boat arriving at 9:00am, so there was unusual cooperation when eating breakfast and packing up to get going. Coming down the mountain was much faster than going up, and for a change we were early enough that it was nice and cool. It was exactly 3 miles from Noname Lake to the boat landing, and for a change we were exactly on time --- the boat had finished taking on passengers and was about to leave but were willing to take us on. I wasn't going to get on the boat but I put everyone else on the boat, gave them my garbage, bear spray, and various accoutrements I didn't need, and set off the complete the North Shore part of the loop.

Without the food, and with my load lightened and the cool morning air, I was raring to go and moved fast.

The North shore trail is much prettier than the south shore trail, and it goes up and down and winds around quite a bit more as well! After climbing into a forested ridge it turned away from the lake quite a bit. I expected this, as there was a trail that went up to Cobalt Lake and then the Continental Divide, which I did not have time to do. Then I encountered the famous swinging bridge.
The sign at the bridge said one hiker at a time, and given how much it moved, it definitely would have been disconcerting to take more than one laden hiker at at a time. Past that, the trail stopped going up and down and became more gentle, and I now saw occasional meadows with beautiful flowers. At 1.5 miles away from the trail head, I saw a sign for Aater Falls, which was a mere 0.1 mile detour away, and I was running out of water, so I walked over, got a picture taken, and filled my water filter.

The rest of the hike was still pretty but the number of hikers I saw grew more and more until I got to the boat landing, where the rest of the family had just finished their ice cream and was waiting impatiently for me to show up. I loaded everyone up and we drove out of the park to Kalispell, where restaurant food, hot showers, and beds awaited us. It turned out that the Kalispell hotel was right in the middle of a chain of strip malls, which included a Costco, an REI (which did not offer sleeping bag laundering services), a Target, a Best Buy, and a supermarket. We made arrangements for a steak dinner, and I called the Polebridge Outfitters to understand what it would take to rent kayaks for a trip to Bowman Lake on Saturday. They explained that they would happily load up the Kayaks onto the roof of my rental, and that I could deflate the kayaks and load them into the car after the trip, so I wouldn't have to deal with wrestling the inflated kayaks back onto the roof. They also explained that I had to get there by 9:00am, or the Bowman Lake parking lot would fill up! After I ascertained the feasibility of the entire endeavor, I committed my credit card to the kayak trip. Xiaoqin reminded me that it wouldn't be her first time kayaking, so I thought nothing of it.

Friday, August 20, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: June 30th - Upper Two Medicine to Noname Lake

 I slept on and off throughout the night, finally awakening just in time to see alpenglow off the surrounding mountains.

I got out of bed, put on my clothes, grabbed my camera and took several pictures, not realizing that it was the last time I would get a chance to see alpenglow on this trip. I went to the privy, and just as I was done I heard some noise of some animal's deep breathing, and the children yelling, "Daddy, daddy, there's a bear!"

I ran out to the campground and lo and behold, a moose was playing in the snow patch. He was jumping up and down, turning around and around, and making a bellowing noise which everyone else had mistaken for a bear sound. He looked huge and was boisterous, and I didn't want to approach any close, but he was majestic. I took out my camera and shot several pictures. He seemed to spot me, and then bolted straight for the lake.

At the beach where he had walked he left hoofprints. Well, after all that excitement, I made oatmeal and had breakfast, and then packed up the tents and backpacks, and we left Upper Two Medicine to retrace our steps back to the Dawson pass trail. The ranger we encountered the day before had warned us that the climb was stiff, and so it was.

In the late morning, the exposed sections were warm, and we stopped to rest often.
Off in the distance we could see the Two Medicine Lake, calm and clear. From the intersection to the lake was only 1.5 miles, but that 1.5 miles climbed about 1000' or so, and it wasn't until the last 0.2 miles that the trail levelled off as we crossed a series of creeks.

The turnoff to Noname itself was another 0.2 miles, and unlike the Upper Two Medicine campground, where the established sites would have violated the 100' from water rule, at Noname Lake the sites were quite a distance from the water (though the dining area was close to a stream), and there was no immediate beech access. 
It being early this time, we had a hot lunch before hanging up the food at the bear pole, and then selected a site and set up the tent. After it was all setup, we had time to chat with a party of hikers who were doing the entire Dawson pass loop, and then once they had left, we felt secure enough to find beach access and go skinny dipping.

Make no mistake. The lake was cold. It took all of 30s before I went completely numb, but in the summer heat once we got out of the lake we felt very refreshed. Having learned out lesson from the day before, we prepped our food and ate it spot on at 5pm, then Bowen and Boen took their showers, we got everybody's teeth brushed and rehung our food, toothbrushes, etc by 6:00pm, anticipating that the sun would go down and the mosquitoes would come out.

But the angle of the sun was far different at Noname Lake, so sundown didn't happen as quickly as we thought, but it turned out that the toll of the last couple of days had done its work, and we all fell asleep by 7pm, only waking a couple of times after dark to see the stars.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Review: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1

 After I killed my Stephenson Warmlite last year, I was forced to look into a tent that could replace it, or at the very least allow the entire family to go backcountry camping together. Here's the deal, my MSR Freelite could sleep 3 of us, but for the fourth person, I'd either have to use a hammock if the weather was good and there were trees, or a single person tent. I decided that the Warmlite was too heavy and too expensive for a single person, and that modern solutions were actually better designed.

During memorial day, I scored a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 single person tent for about $286 (including taxes and shipping). I didn't end up using it on the Chiluana Falls backpacking trip because Xiaoqin got food poisoning.

At Glacier National Park, I could have used the hammock, but the rangers discouraged me from doing so. Knowing what I know now, I would have preferred to bring the hammock with the bug net rather than a second tent, but that couldn't be help.

The tent is light, and the single pole design meant that it's easy to setup. It's not easy to set up without a fly, however, since the tent design depends on the fly being present to stiffen up the shape. Xiaoqin sleeps cold anyway, so having both fly and tent would keep her warmer. I did bend some stakes because invariably Boen tripped over one of the stakes and crashed. But the tent had no condensation because of the warm dry conditions, and kept the bugs out.

The floor of the tent looked really flimsy. Despite being used only by an adult, I could see stones, etc through the tent floor. I no longer consider a tent footprint optional for this tent. But seriously? A 2 pound tent that's easy to setup, spacious for one person? It's more than good enough. I could only have dreamed of tents this light in 1993 when I first set off on my very first bicycle tour.


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: June 29th - Two Medicine Lake to Upper Two Medicine

 All the cajoling in the world could not get my family ready to leave the resort until 8:30am. From there, it was a 2 hour drive along the perimeter of the park to get to East Glacier, and we arrived at 10:50am. "Just in time to catch the 11:00am Ferry!" declared Bowen, who had read the time table. To our horror, there didn't look like much parking at the boat launch parking lot, so I hurriedly let the kids and Xiaoqin and their packs down so they could line up to buy tickets while I searched for parking. I found an empty dirt parking lot and within minutes of parking, other cars would show up and take up most of the spots!

To our horror, not only was the 11:00am Ferry full, the other ferries later in the day also had waiting lists. I wasn't willing to get on the waiting list and let the day get hot, when the next ferry was at 1pm, and chances for getting on the ferry were low. We went back to the car (I'd forgotten the hiking sticks), and then headed off for the north shore trail, which by all accounts was the easiest way to get to Upper Two Medicine.

The hike along the north shore wasn't perfectly flat, but it wasn't challenging, but at 11:00am the heat was already building. We made pretty good time given the weight of our packs, and made it past the Noname Lake intersection and then towards Twin Falls, where a large number of folks (brought there by the very boat we had missed) were gathered.

Twin falls was a split-waterfall, and it was pretty but much too crowded. I was happy to leave it behind for the climb to Upper Two Medicine. In the mid-afternoon heat, we all felt the exposure. The scenery was pretty but nobdooy seemed to enjoy it. We had plenty of water though, thanks to the water filter.

Getting to the lake, we saw the entry marking with 4 camp sites, but only 2 seemed viable. I pitched the tents and setup the beds while the kids played in the water, which was freezing cold, but after all that heat nobody minded. Bowen was very excited about the camp shower, and with Xiaoqin's help figured out how to fill the bag by pumping the bag up and down while knee deep in the lake.
As they day progressed, people would occasionally visit the lake, but by the time 5:00pm rolled around (official camping dinner time), we realized that we were the only people camping at the lake. For whatever reason, Glacier National Park's Backcountry department had decreed that Upper Two Medicine, Cobalt Lake, and Noname Lakes were "one party per lake" during this time, which was awesome.

We ate dinner, which was conveniently at the food preparation area, which had a food storage locker which was bear proof. It really was only big enough for one party, so that could have been one reason the site was one party per night. As soon as the sun went down, mosquitoes came out, and we discovered that our citronella based insect repellent was next to worthless, so we retreated into the tents. It being so warm, I decided to setup our MSR Freelite 3 without a rainfly. That meant that whenever any of us woke up in the  middle of the night, we could look up at the sky and see plenty of stars. The cooler temperature made me sleep better in Glacier National Park's backcountry than on any of the nights at Flathead Lake Resort.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: June 28th - Avalanche Lake


I woke up at 4:55am, searched in vain for my National Park Pass, gave up, and drove down to the Park Entrance, arriving there at 5:55am, before the need for a permit to enter. Driving to Apgar Village and parking at the Backcountry Permit Ranger Station, I was dismayed to find someone already in line, and he had the nerve to be better prepared than me: he had a nice sleeping pad and a sleeping bag, while I hadn't even brought insect repellent and would stand there for the better part of 2 hours doing the Australian Salute.

"Which site are you here for?" I asked when he poked his head out of his sleeping bag. "Bowman Lake." "Woah. You're aware it's projected to be 100F tomorrow there, right?" "Yeah. There's 9 of us, and it was the only site big enough. My buddies are already there, and there's one site left so I have to be here to grab it." I gave thanks. He perked up and I discussed my site selection and reasoning to him, as he seemed very familiar with the park. "That sounds right. The East side is cooler than the West side, and Upper Two Medicine is 1000' higher, which is good for 5 degrees Fahrenheit. And Noname is even higher!" "How long have you been here?" "Since 4:45am." OK, I wasn't behind him by a little bit, I was behind him by a lot!

At 6:30am, a woman dressed in the Park Employee's uniform showed up. "I'm so bummed I forgot to pick up my permit yesterday!" She tried calling the on-duty ranger but they didn't make any exceptions for her.  At 7:00am, an Escalade showed up and disgorged a group of women. I counted their numbers and to my relief they were more than 4 people, which meant that they couldn't compete with me for my desired itinerary. They introduced themselves as a bunch of folks from Texas, and apologized with cheer for bringing Texas weather with them. "I need some coffee. Can one of you go for coffee?" one said to another. "OMG, can you get one for me too?" I asked. I looked so pathetic that they assented, and brought me back a cup of black coffee after a while. At age 51, I finally got a woman to buy me a drink!

The ranger office opened up as more parties arrived, and when I went in I indeed got my site: Upper Two Medicine on June 29th, and Noname for June 30th. I asked the ranger about possibly camping in a hammock, but he discouraged me --- I would be allowed to use one inside the established site, but it would be against the rule to just tie my hammock to any tree to sleep.  Despite that discouragement, I felt great, went down to the camping store to buy a gas canister at an exorbitant price of $8, said goodbye to the ladies behind me, and drove back to Flathead Lake Resort to pick up the rest of the family. I still didn't have a park entry permit, but I realized that I had the e-mail about picking up the backcountry permit for Cracker Lake, so I picked up the wife and kids, drove back to the entrance, and used the e-mail to enter the park under the excuse that I was picking up my backcountry permit!

Not needing to pick one up any more, we drove straight to the trailhead for Avalanche Lake, an easy hike that I remembered from 2010 that I wanted to repeat, because the last time I did it I saw nothing at the lake!

The hike was pretty and easy, and I'd brought along the water filter so we could drink from the lake. The water tasted great! On the way back down, we ran into Arturo, who sheepishly took my National Parks Pass card out of his wallet and gave it back to me. Too late, since we'd already paid $35 for a 7 day entry permit to Glacier National Park, but it was worth it, so beautiful was the hike.

By the time we were all done it was too late to go to any place fancy for dinner, so we settled for take out Mexican food near the resort, as I wanted to go back and pack for the backcountry trip. While waiting for food, I realized that we couldn't re-enter Glacier National park any more, so I had to have a plan for Friday. The forecast was for continued heat, and but I noticed that there were Rafting companies near the entrance of the park. Most of them were booked solid, but one had availability for Friday, so after consulting with Bowen and Xiaoqin I booked a half day trip with them as a recovery trip.

The Mexican food was nothing special, but I got a chance to pack that night. This time, I had the disadvantage of having to carry 3 days worth of food, but the advantage of not having to carry a bear canister. To my dismay, I had to attach an accessory bag to be able to carry all the food. I had no room left to carry the hammock, or the CPAP machine and battery. I packed my backpack, Xiaoqin's backpack, the kids' camelbaks and filled them with water. I cajoled everyone into getting into bed early in the hopes of getting an early start --- it was at least a 2 hour drive into Two Medicine from where we were the next morning.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Review: Premonition

 In the opening to Premonition, Michael Lewis claims that he wrote the book intending to find malfeasance behind Trump, but discovered that the bigger story was that Trump was just "a co-morbidity" at best. I think he way over-sold this conclusion.

The book focuses on Charity Dean, California's deputy head of Public Health. The reason she wasn't the head of the department was because she was white and blond, and Newsome apparently wanted a woman of color in charge because of concerns about racial justice. It's quite clear that in the world of politics, being the best person for the job isn't good enough, and Dean was continuously being asked to back-pedal her conclusions or make it look like her boss's work. My sympathies (and yours too) are of course with the technically competent person who's not allowed to do the right thing.

the state’s personnel management was bizarre. “There was something seriously awry,” Markovich said. “Everyone I called about Charity tells me she walks on water, and it was pretty clear that she was running the show but, like, wait a minute, she’s the assistant health officer? She’s not the head health officer? Where’s the head?” He asked around and learned that the head health officer was a woman named Sonia Angell, but he never met her. “It started to be impossible to miss,” said Markovich. “This is the biggest public-health crisis ever, and she’s nowhere to be found.” (Kindle Loc 3827)

But the rest of the story isn't really about how Trump wasn't part of the problem. It was quite clear that for instance, Bush actually thought about pandemics and at least asked someone to write up a plan. And in fact, the whole concept of social distancing was thought up by a white-house driven initiative, and the book includes a story about how that group overcame resistance within the CDC and got social distancing accepted as one of the tools for pandemic control, along with school closures and other measures. This was huge, and a clear example that government can come up with ideas.

The rest of the book takes potshots at the CDC for its inability to take risks and manage pandemics, which I might agree with, but again, the solution for that is to fix it and put risk-takers in charge. Instead, we get paragraphs like this:

He’d been born in Poland and moved to the United States as a child. He had memories of Poland as a communist regime, and of the total breakdown of the government’s ability to be useful to its citizens. What he saw in the local U.S. public-health offices remined him of public services in Poland, but before the collapse of communism. “Poland now is not like this,” said David, after seeing the inside of a U.S. public-health office. “Poland now is more functional. Eastern Europeans are tough and kind of not shocked by a failed state. But these are the symptoms of a failed state.” (Kindle Loc 3605)

 To be sure, the past couple of years have shown that US governments are incredibly deficient in many ways. But to get to this point took about 40 years of constant Republican propaganda about how "government isn't the solution, government is the problem." And even then, it was quite clear that states like California and Washington did manage to avoid the worst of it --- that was, until California's right-wing citizens got antsy about the social distancing. Make no mistake, I think the ridiculous lockdowns that shutdown beaches and public outdoor spaces were insane, but again, the solution there isn't fewer scientists in government!

The book ends with Charity Dean leaving her job in government to do a startup:

Once she’d become a public-health officer, she’d imagined an entire career in public service. Now she did not believe that the American government, at this moment in its history, would ever do what needed doing. Disease prevention was a public good, but the public wasn’t going to provide anything like enough of it. From the point of view of American culture, the trouble with disease prevention was that there was no money in it. She needed to find a way to make it pay. (Kindle loc 4206)

The saddest part of that is that if everyone competent in government thought like this, we'd be in a worst state. We need more institution building, not less, and as Obama once said, "Private companies can and should pick the customers they serve, but governments cannot!"

The book is as well written as any Michael Lewis book is, and has all sorts of great stories in it that makes it well worth your time. Just read it carefully, keeping in mind Lewis's agenda.


Friday, August 13, 2021

2021 Glacier National Park: June 27th - Going to the Sun Road and Hidden Lake Overlook

 After doing laundry in the morning, I got back in time to pick up the kids and then drive to the rendezvous location to pick up Arturo. Both Arturo and Peter had gotten entry tickets, so Arturo could do the switchero: get into my car wearing a mask, get us through the entry gate, and then get off and get back into Peter's car. We caught up, and I told him about the book we'd use to do that wonderful hike the day before. "Oh, so it was you who checked out that book. No wonder I couldn't get it." It spoke volumes that both of us never even considered buying the book rather than checking it out from the library.

To our surprise, there was no 2.5 hour wait time to get into the park as feared. We basically just zipped through the checkpoint. To my dismay, there was also no hang tag. We would have to show ID and the entry ticket every day we wanted into the park! Well, that meant we had to make the most of the one day we had.

Driving along the Going to the Sun highway, we saw e-bikes, which was the only vehicle allowed without an entry ticket, but bicycles were required to be off the road between 11am and 4pm, so there was definitely a short time window for them as well! The road itself is spectacular, and the kids begged to get off and see the weeping wall. I'd never been in the park in July before, and the amount of water coming off the mountains was nothing short of spectacular!

At the Logan Pass visitor center, we parked the car. Because we'd started the day so late, I decided that the best hike for the day was the Hidden Lake Overlook. I had hopes to make it all the way to Hidden Lake, but given how much snow I'd seen the day before I wasn't hopeful.

We had just parked the car and walked over to the curb when someone told us that there were bighorn ship across the street! We walked over and sure enough, there was a herd of bighorn sheep grazing, just below the snow. That was pretty exciting.

I had told Xiaoqin before the trip that Glacier National Park was the only place in the US where the scenic beauty could match that of the Swiss Alps, and on that day, the Hidden Lake overlook did not make a liar out of me.

The kids were delighted by the outlook of snow in late June, and went about playing in the snow, which meant that the hike was slow progress.
Xiaoqin, despite her hiking sticks, felt nervous about walking in the snow, and the crowd didn't make her feel better, as she saw one after another ill-equipped tourist slip, slide and fall, though of course, on snow the most that could do was to make your pants wet.

After a couple of miles she decided to turn around with the kids. The kids were happy enough to play in the snow, so but I opted to keep going, as the scenic beauty was one I could not turn down, and I was confident that I could make it up to at least the overlook and back without them having to wait for too long.

Sure enough, once over the hump, the trail became much less snowy, though no less beautiful. At the overlook, however, the view of the partially-iced up Hidden Lake was something to behold, as was the mountain goat and mountain marmot.
I reveled in the beauty of the place, snapping photo after photo, and then turned around and hiked back. This time, I remembered my mountaineering training and post-holed down at speed with stability, depending on the waterproofing on my Columbia Montrail to keep my feet dry, which they did.

Back at the car, we left the crowded parking lot, went through a tunnel, and found a pullout with such scenic beauty that we were content to eat lunch there, staring at the waterfalls coming down the mountain.

Post-lunch, we visited the Jackson Glacier Overlook, right next to which was the Gunsight Lake trailhead, upon which I had taken my parents backcountry camping for the first time way back in 1994. That was the trip that converted them to backcountry camping, having complained every mile to the Gunsight Lake campground, only to shut up when a mountain goat greeted them at the entrance, and when that night, the moon lit up the surrounding mountains in layers and elk bugled in the distance, they had the temerity to ask me why I had only booked the place for one night!

Going down to St Mary's we stopped again for photos but the kids were done with hiking for the rest of the day, so we turned around and drove back to the Apgar visitor center, where I wanted to scout out the location of the backcountry permit office. It was a good thing I did, because at the visitor center, I learned two things: (1) the backcountry permit office was in Apgar village proper, not at the Apgar visitor center, and (2) if I wanted a chance to get my ideal itinerary, I'd better show up at 6:00am, not 7:30am! I scouted around and found the backcountry permit office, and resolved to show up at 6:00am the next morning. The forecast was for 100F heat in the valleys as low as 4000' (e.g., Bowman Lake), and the itinerary that was given me was Cracker Lake, which had no trees and would have been cooking hot, in addition to being a dead end so we'd be stuck there two nights with nothing to do in between. 

That night, Xiaoqin picked Cowboy Up restaurant in Somers for dinner. They had outdoor seating but it was hot, and the owner was packing heat, and not the kind used for cooking. nevertheless, the food was awesome and we ate everything with relish. I was very pleased with the food!