Monday, August 31, 2015

Flying at the Ranch

Sunset at the ranch

"The ranch" is a private flight park near Cashmere, WA. Our instructor in Santa Barbara had talked about how nice it was and we were in the area so we thought we'd check it out. Aerial Paragliding runs the school there and it turns out that the ranch is mostly used by students. It's possible to get some longer flights from here if the conditions are good, but there are other bigger flying sites nearby.

In addition to the flying we really enjoyed the peace and quiet of the place. There are lots of deer around, wild turkeys came to visit, a coyote wandered past, and a skunk crossed the road (we didn't ask why). The road up to the ranch is a little tricky in a low clearance car like our Prius but passable.

The first day the wind was wrong for flying so we went down to the park in Cashmere and did some kiting. I'll be the first to admit I need the practice, but it's still a little frustrating to come all this way to do something we could do at home!

Thankfully the wind was better the next day and we got in 7 flights. Most of the flights were from "Don's" launch which is about 800 ft vertically above the landing zone. A "sled ride" is about 4 minutes long. If the wind is right you can do some ridge soaring and I managed to stay up for quite a bit longer on one flight. It was a good place to practice flying closer to the terrain since the slopes are smooth and grassy. The landing zone was large, which is a good thing since I'm still inconsistent on landing at a specific place - sometimes right on target, other times way down the field.

We hadn't signed up for any specific instruction but Doug and Denise gave us lots of helpful tips and we got to eavesdrop on the lessons to the students, at varying levels of experience from first day to almost certified. It's always fun to see the excitement of people getting their first flights.

Our last day we got in 8 flights, including one from a higher hike up launch (Tibbets). There was almost no wind first thing so the first few launches were forwards. After that it picked up enough to do reverse launches. But the best part (for me) was 8 flights = 8 decent launches. Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming they were perfect, but they were relatively smooth and straight with no obvious screw ups. (And no aborted attempts.) Conditions were relatively mild, but that didn't stop some of the other students from having problems. After my screw ups at Jackson I was a bit bummed out, so it was nice to end the trip on a much more positive note.

One of the low wind forward launches. Thanks to Shelley for the video.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sidney Aquarium

After lunch at Muse Winery, the aquarium in Sidney was nearby. This is quite a small aquarium and Shelley and I had been there before, but I was happy to have a chance to visit and get a few photos.

Jellyfish are interesting to watch and the tanks are often lit to highlight their inhabitants. If I remember correctly this is a lions mane jelly


Some of them are very transparent.


Grunt sculpins are funny looking fish. They use their spiny fins to crawl across the bottom.


I forget what kind of shrimp this was.


A colorful anemone. As kids we liked to poke them to make them withdraw all their tentacles and contract into a ball.


A curious fish.


When we first got there the giant pacific octopus was sleeping in a corner, as usual. But later he came out to show off for us. Fascinating creatures.

giant pacific octopus

Despite the challenges of dirty glass, dim lighting, and other people, it's still easier than actually shooting underwater! (And the new Nikon D7200 does a great job in the dim light.)

See all 11 photos as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


It's been a few years since we've been in Victoria so it was nice to wander around. If you're lucky you'll see some otters or seals in the harbour. These are river otters, perhaps a family group since there were two smaller presumably younger ones.


Victoria in the summer seems full of flowers.


It was hazy, probably from the forest fires, but we did get a few views of Mt. Baker in the distance (another one we've climbed).

Mt. Baker at sunset

We had some nice meals - Il Terrazo, Oak Bay Hotel, Muse Winery, Spinnaker, Rebar - lots of good places in and around Victoria.

We went for lunch at Muse Winery, sampled some of their wines, and wandered their vineyards where the grapes were ripening. (We sampled some of the grapes too - interesting how they varied in sweetness and flavor.)

vineyard grapes

After supper at Spinnakers we had a sunset walk along the water.


See all 25 photos as a slideshow or overview

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Victoria Reflections

In Victoria, we ended up staying at the Coast Victoria Hotel, as part of a package with the Clipper (the ferry from Seattle). This seemed like the best way to get a decent hotel price in busy Victoria.

Staying on the water, and a little way from downtown, we got lots of chances to walk along the shore, so I indulged my fascination with the infinite variety of reflections :-) The colorful boats and houseboats provided much of the color.


deep green




As usual with my abstract photos, these are a bit more heavily processed (in Lightroom) but only to increase brightness and contrast etc., not really altering the images.

See all 24 photos as a slideshow or overview

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Seattle Aquarium

The morning after the conference we fit in a quick visit to the Seattle Aquarium before catching the Clipper (ferry) to Victoria to visit my sisters. (one lives there and the other was visiting)

We had a few minutes to wait before it opened and there was a fountain ...


I like the bright orange beak and eyes of the black oystercatchers.

black oystercatcher

And it's always fascinating to watch the jellyfish. (As long as you're not in the water with the nasty ones!)


Part of the reason I like aquariums it that there are so many bizarre and wonderful creatures, like these cuttlefish.


See all 9 photos as a slideshow or overview

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cross Country

last views of the Tetons

After leaving Jackson, Wyoming we drove east, getting our last views of the Tetons from the west side. The first day we ended up in Boise, Idaho. As usual, we avoided the interstates, making for a bit longer journey, but a much more pleasant one (IMO). There was a forest fire just south of Boise and the smoke made for a colorful sunset.

Boise urban sunset

Driving north-west from Boise we encountered another forest fire.

Oregon Hwy 26 fire

At first we thought we'd pass by it, but we got closer and closer till we ran into a road block where they weren't letting traffic through. After a short delay they let us through, even though the fire was burning right beside the road. We saw on the news that they closed the highway later in the day.

Oregon Hwy 26 fire

This was with a telephoto lens, but the fire had burned right up to the roadside in places.

We had planned to camp that night, but there was a huge windstorm going on so we ended up staying at the River Lodge on the Columbia River. It was too windy to pleasantly walk around outside, but from the hotel lounge and restaurant we could watch the waves crashing into the shore.

Columbia River

All the smoke and dust in the air made for a colorful sunset.

Columbia River sunset

The next day we drove along the north side of the Columbia River (the interstate is on the south side). There are a number of wineries along the way but we didn't stop since we had too much driving to do. We got good views of Mt. Hood (which we had climbed quite a few years ago).

Mt. Hood over Columbia River

We turned north from the Columbia River and drove through beautiful forested mountains past Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier, although cloudy skies prevented good views of them. We're now within striking distance of Seattle where I have a computer conference for a few days.

See all 25 photos as a slideshow or overview

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Jackson Paragliding Part 2

My second day of paragliding went better - we got in two flights and both my launches and landings were reasonable. I was all ready to write a much more positive blog post. But the third day wasn't quite so good.

Grand Teton
Grand Teton from the top of the tram

It's often hard to spot other gliders when you're in the air, especially if they are below you and you're trying to pick them out of the scenery. I knew Shelley was ahead of me but I lost track of her until I was coming in to land and I saw her carrying her glider from the next field over!? When I landed one of the local pilots, "Bones", said "Someone landed in the golf course. I was going to land beside them to make sure they were ok, but they did a perfect landing." I said, "That would be my wife." He reassured us that people screw up all the time, and that one time he'd landed right beside one of the houses. It turned out she actually landed in the construction site next door, and a truck had to stop to let her land!

I thought my landing had been ok, but we both got chewed out by one of the tandem pilots - me for turning too close to the ground. There is a wide range of "bedside manners" amongst instructors and tandem pilots. I certainly realize we're not doing things the best way, but the misjudgements are not intentional and I'm not sure getting chewed out really helps. Some advice or tips would be a lot more useful. Did I mention it's hard being a beginner again? I can see why a lot of people stop tackling new things as they get older. Especially physical skills, which I think are like languages - a lot easier to learn when you're younger. 

After two flights we thought we were done for the day, but earlier we had inquired about the possibility of a tandem "cross country" flight. When we checked they said we could go right now. So we changed back into our flying clothes and jumped back on the tram. Unfortunately, conditions didn't turn out to be very good and we got only a slightly longer flight than our solo ones. Nevertheless we got some good tips and instruction, and it was interesting to see how an experienced pilot flew. (And I got a chance to take more photos since someone else was piloting.)

Shelley on tandem flight
Shelley on tandem flight

Shelley on tandem flight
Shelley on tandem flight, launch is the peak to the right

Our third morning when we got up I was pretty sure we wouldn't by flying. There was heavy cloud and it was sprinkling rain. But we got ready and headed up to Teton Village. You never know what the weather is going to do. The tourist tandems were going up and the theory was that the weather would improve. It then proceeded to rain on the tram ride and continued up top. There was a brief lull and several of the tandems launched, but then the rain returned and everyone scurried to shelter with their gliders. 
Even the tandem pilots were grumbling.

But finally it cleared for long enough to fly. There was pretty much no wind but we did forward launches and got away successfully.

flying over the golf course

It stayed cloudy but the rain stayed away so we headed back up for a second flight. When we are with an instructor or guide Shelley likes me to go first to see what conditions are like. But when we're on our own she prefers to go first so I can make sure she gets away ok. So Shelley took off first, no wind, so a forward launch which she did nicely. I went to follow right behind her, but made a classic newbie mistake. I ran down the hill, thought I was launched, sat back in the harness (too soon) and then dipped down. The bottom of my harness dragged on the ground and I ended up back on my feet. I had a split second to decide whether to try to run or to abort. I was getting close to the drop off and I didn't know what my glider was doing so I pulled the brakes and aborted. Better safe than sorry.

It took awhile to get my glider and all the lines disentangled from the rocky ground and trudge back up the slope kicking myself all the way. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I know better than that! I tried another forward launch but didn’t even get the glider up. Then I realized the nearby tandem pilots weren't even attempting to take off. A glance at the windsock told me why - the wind was blowing pretty much straight sideways across the slope. (You need to launch into the wind.) I sat down and waited. Eventually there was a lull and the tandems got away. I waited for another lull and tried to follow but as soon as I did the wind blew across again and my wing went down. There was another solo pilot trying to launch and he also failed a couple of times. I waited a bit but it wasn’t getting any better. Frustrated, I packed up and rode the tram down, kicking myself even more because I'd had a chance to launch with Shelley and I'd screwed it up.

Later, Shelley said, “At least you don't have a bunch of scrapes and bruises like me.” Which is true, despite my screw ups I've managed to escape without a scratch, so far always landing on my feet, without face planting or being dragged. But as I told her, I did have bruises, they were just on my ego! Which is probably good for me - at work I'm the most experienced programmer, the boss, and the owner. Needless to say, I don't get chewed out much and it's pretty much within my comfort zone.

Jackson Hole Paragliding does a steady tandem business. The first tram at 8:15 would often hold 14 tandem pilots and their passengers. (Plus a handful of solo pilots.) After that it slowed down, but if conditions were good they might give 70 flights in a day. The quick tram ride up to the top and the landing zone near the base of the tram makes for quick turnaround. Most of the tandem pilots were quite welcoming and helpful, but they were doing their job, and to a certain extent solo pilots were a nuisance, especially novices like us. We tried not to get in their way.

tandems prep to launch
tandems prep to launch

Our last day was calm and clear skies. I thought for sure we'd get in a flight or two before we hit the road. But it turned out the wind was blowing the wrong direction and only P4's could launch off the back side. (We're P2's.) So that was the end of our Jackson Hole paragliding. We enjoyed flying here and the tram certainly made it easy. But because we could only fly first thing in the morning, we didn't get any thermals and all the flights were short and simple. At the stage we're at, it's all good experience, but not quite as satisfying as the longer flights we got in BC.

See all 16 photos as a slideshow or overview

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Day 1 Jackson Hole Paragliding

Jackson Hole is a beautiful place to fly and it's great getting whisked up 4000 ft on the tram. As beginners we were flying early in the day before conditions got rougher, which meant fairly short "sled ride" flights, but still fantastic to be flying.

Shelley prepping to launch

I can't say the same for my launches. Despite the relatively mellow conditions I had terrible launches. I get nervous and rush my turn around and don't control the glider well. And I really really hate doing such a crappy job. My second launch was slightly better but still not good. I got off first try both launches, but it wasn't pretty. I know I need practice, but I also know I do a lot better on our training hill with no one watching and no nerves. It's not so much that I'm nervous about the flying, it's that I'm worried about screwing up the launch and the more pressure I put on myself, the worse I do.

Shelley flying (highlighted)

And then my first landing was awful as well. I misjudged my altitude, thought I could clear a barbed wire fence, realized I couldn't, flared at the last minute and came within a few feet of plastering myself on the fence, which would not have been fun. As it is my glider came down on the far side of the fence. Luckily no damage done. And the second landing was much better.

Teton Village, Jackson Hole

Of course, Shelley, who claims to be much more nervous, did just fine on both launches and landings. That's awesome, but it just makes me kick myself more!

So it was great to be flying, but hopefully I'll do better with my launches!

Sunday, August 09, 2015


We're on another road trip, heading eventually to Seattle for a computer conference, hoping to do some paragliding along the way. Our first day we drove as far as Livingston where we naively expected to pull in and grab a hotel room. Although we figured it might be busy on a weekend, we soon discovered there wasn't an available hotel room within 100 miles. We're used to traveling off season when the problem is more things being closed than everything being full. We were told even the camp sites were all full. We tried a few campgrounds and eventually one suggested the Livingston Campground which is more or less right in town. It was also "full" but for tents they just had an area of grass and we were told if we could fit in our tent we could stay. And hey, it was only ten bucks!

We figured we'd better book something in Jackson quick. There was some availability but the prices are pretty crazy. Needless to say it was a whole lot more than $10. But by the time we finished the slow drive through Yellowstone we were glad we had something booked so we didn't have the stress of searching. And the hotel was at Teton Village in Jackson Hole, within walking distance of the gondola that we'd be taking to paraglide - perfect, other than the price! (We found a KOA for the next few nights. Further away, but considerably cheaper!)

We didn't stop much driving through Yellowstone. Between road construction, slow speed limits, and traffic jams from animals it took us long enough even just driving straight through. So despite it being beautiful scenery I only grabbed a few photos:

Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon


Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Spiders of the Day

A couple of new spider sightings.


I think this might be a long-jawed orb weaver. It was on the underside of a horizontal web built in a corner of the pond at Innovation Place.

And this one was nearby, also on the underside but of a much small web.


No sign of my usual fishing spiders today.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Twenty K

Had a good 20 km run this morning, my longest so far this summer. It was a beautiful sunny morning for it. I'm always more motivated when the sun is shining! And it was pleasantly cool, at least early on.

When I started I wasn't sure how far I was going to go for my regular Sunday morning run. I wanted to run the 18 km loop around the new bridge but the farthest I'd been this summer was 13 km, and my knee and back have been complaining occasionally. My running hasn't been as consistent this summer since we've been away for a couple of extended trips. I'd just about convinced myself that 18 km was pushing it, and that I'd just do 15 km. I'm all for pushing occasionally, but on the other hand, I don't really want to do any damage. My body doesn't recover from abuse quite as easily as it did once upon a time.

But the older I get, the less I feel I can wait for the "perfect" moment, so when I got to the turnoff and was feeling good I went for the longer loop. It was nice to cover some new ground. We're so lucky to have the trails along the riverbank. About a third of the time I could run on the dirt trails lower on the riverbank, and the rest was along the Meewasin trail, with only a few blocks of running along streets.

I've been doing my longer runs averaging 11 km/hr so since I was aiming for farther today I set a target of 10 km/hr. Without my gps watch I suspect I would have settled into a slightly slower pace, but it turned out just about right and I had no trouble keeping that pace for the whole run.

At one point there was balding grey haired somewhat rounded man running ahead of me. He looked like he was moving very slowly, but it seemed to take forever to pass him. Either he was moving faster than he looked (my preferred interpretation!) or else my own pace was less impressive than I'd like to think.

When I get to the end of the loop I felt good enough, and my pace was still holding up, so I added another extra two kilometers to make a round 20. It wasn't till the last kilometer that my knee started bothering me. It's possible that was just its current limit. But the timing seems suspicious and I wonder if it wasn't just lodging a formal complaint against those extra 2 km. As soon as I stopped it was fine, so no big deal either way.

To a serious runner, 20 km in 2 hours is no big deal. Not even a half marathon, and a pretty slow pace. Of course, to a non runner it's an unimaginable ordeal. Given my current level of training it's about as far as I'd want to go. And yet it was enough within my abilities that I could enjoy it. Technically, I cheated since I made my usual coffee stop, making it a 14 km run, a short break (not counted in the 2 hours), and then a 6 km run. If that makes me a less "serious" runner, that's ok with me :-)

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Photo of the Day


I spotted this butterfly landing on a tree as I was walking back to my office after lunch by the pond at Innovation Place. I stopped to look at it, assuming it would fly away shortly since usually they don't sit still for too long. It stayed for a while, even letting me get quite close so I backed off and pulled my camera out of my pack. As soon as I took the first shot I knew it wouldn't be very good since I was shooting towards the sun and a bright sky, making the butterfly too dark.

This is probably recoverable on the computer, but it's better to start with something decent, rather than try to rescue it later.

I could have adjusted the camera exposure to make the butterfly brighter, but then the background would have been "blown out" (too bright). So I turned the flash on. Usually I'd lower the flash power so it wasn't overpowering, especially up close. But I figured with sunny mid-day I wouldn't need to. Looking at the photos on the computer I probably should have still lowered it a little bit.

I also tried moving around so I was shooting away from the sun and didn't need the flash, but it wasn't as good an angle, although more natural looking without the flash.


Why do I think this is a butterfly rather than a moth? There's no simple answer, but a bunch of clues:

  • thin antenna with "clubs" on the end
  • out during the day (most moths are nocturnal)
  • resting with wings together (moths usually rest with wings open)
  • butterflies are often more colorful than moths, and although the underside of this one is fairly drab, the top side was a much brighter orange
However, butterflies usually have smooth slender bodies, whereas this one was stouter and furry looking like a moth.

From my butterfly app I'm guessing this is a California Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis californica), although Saskatoon is on the edge of its range. (It's usually found in forested areas in the mountains.)