Back From Vacation… There’s a Long To-Do List

On Saturday, I returned to Seattle after six weeks in Asia. Doing any sort of trip recap would be difficult, simply because so much happened– I kept a journal during the trip, which I wrote in daily, and the raw document contains 44,137 words. I also took over 4,000 pictures. I’m sorting and processing those, now that I have access to my editing software again, but if you’d like to see some of the photos that I was able to upload as I went, here are some links to Facebook image galleries:

Trekking in Nepal
Hong Kong
24 Hours in Seoul

So much happened that it’s hard to do it any sort of justice in a short recap. But one of the reasons I travel is to try and broaden my perspective, to remind myself that the corner of the world I see and interact with every day is not the entire world. Because if you spend years fully submerged in your own little corner– not just physically but emotionally, mentally, spiritually– sometimes that little corner does start to feel like all there is.

Having spent four years in Seattle without any serious travel, I felt like I was suffering from that a bit, and I think that going to Asia, visiting the “developing world” for the first time, seeing cultures and parts of the world and ways of living with which I was almost totally unfamiliar, gave me a lot to think about it, not just in the short term but over the coming months and years.

So I will probably do a blog post or two on specific topics in the coming months. I also plan to take that 44,000 word travel journal and spend this year’s NaNoWriMo trying to make it into a readable narrative, complete with commentary and throwing some travel tips and advice as well. I do feel like I came back from Asia with a lot to say; now I just have to collect my thoughts.

In the meantime, I also need to get some business wheels churning again, so I’ll post occasionally with news on that front. Now that I’m back, and now that I’ve rested my way back to a normal sleep schedule and mostly shaken off the intestinal issues I brought back from Nepal, it’s time to get to work and see if I can make my creative aspirations start really paying off.

As usual, sometimes the hardest journeys don’t start until after you get home.

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Off For Some Trekking

Nepal - Google Maps - Google Chrome_2014-09-15_10-05-01Not the Star Trek variety, that is, but the real life version.

I’m leaving Seattle today, and in two days I’ll arrive in Kathmandu, in the country of Nepal. From there I’ll be spending five weeks in Nepal, exploring and hiking. Most of my time will be spent walking the Annapurna Circuit, although there may be time for a side trek or two as well.

This trip is going to fulfill several firsts for me:

-My first time spending more than two weeks overseas

-My first time on the continent of Asia

-My first time in a non-Western country at all, actually

I’m both excited and nervous– mostly excited, though. Needless to say, I’ll be bringing my camera, and taking lots of photos of Nepal and the Himalayas. I’ll also be trying to keep a travel journal, and I’ll probably be posting here when time and interesting events permit.

When I leave Nepal in a few weeks, I’ll be swinging through Hong Kong and Seoul on my way back to Seattle, just long enough to stop in briefly, pay a visit to my Dad, who will be in Hong Kong on business, and snap a few pics before heading home.

Time for an adventure. I’ll be back in a few weeks, America.

Ten Years Ago Today

On August 12, 2004 I reached the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, after hiking for five months from the southern terminus in Georgia. You can still read the whole of my journal from the trail... I posted it as I went, from whatever public libraries I could find in towns along the way.

At the time, I was mostly just relieved to be done, but since then it’s become an important bedrock of personal strength for me. If I can complete a 2200-mile, five-month hike, I can do a lot of other things, whether it’s travelling to other countries on my own, or moving to the West Coast, or starting a photography business, or dealing with chronic depression.

To this day, I’m a huge believer in challenging yourself, in stepping outside of your comfort zone, in reaching for crazy and far-fetched dreams and goals, even at the risk of embarrassing or expensive failure. Hiking the A.T. may have been the first thing that really taught me that, even if it took me a few more years to recognize the lesson.

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Photos, Novels, and Trips, Oh My

clarionwestIt’s been a busy August, and it’s likely to get even busier… more on that in a moment. But first, thanks to everyone who sponsored me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. It’s been a fun Clarion season, with lots of get-togethers and writing evenings… and congrats to my friend Folly Blaine for finishing the full six-week workshop!

For the write-a-thon, my goal was to write the second draft of my current work in progress, Noah’s Dragon. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite finish that– I got about three-quarters of the way through. As I approached the end, I realized that the amount of work the end needed was going to be larger than what I had time for, and so instead of doing a full second draft, I worked on doing a read-through, and planning what needs to change in the third draft.

In the meantime, in addition to working on the third draft, I’m planning to write a synopsis and hopefully get things in shape so I can send out a few agent queries before I travel to Nepal for six weeks in the fall, starting in mid-September. Which will be its own bundle of planning work, even though I’m very much looking forward to it.

Earlier this year, I got an invitation from a friend travelling in Asia to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a three-week walk through the valleys and mountains of Nepal. And since I’ve never been to Asia, and this would be a dream backpacking trek in almost every sense of the word, I decided to seize the opportunity. Now my plane tickets are bought, my destination date is less than six weeks away, and there’s an ever-increasing list of things I want to accomplish in those six weeks before I leave.

One of the things I’ve actually managed to check off my list is rework my photography website, Journeys in Color, to include a comprehensive list of portrait packages, event photography, and retouching services for sale. If you live in the Seattle area, please take a look! I’m hoping to particularly cater to the geek and cosplay communities, since that’s what inspired my original passion in portrait photography.

I’ve also set up a shop where you can buy photo prints (including standard prints, bookmarks, cards and stamps) of selected pictures. You can also buy photos as digital backgrounds, for computers or mobile devices, which have been pre-cropped to 16×9 horizontal and vertical resolutions. If you enjoy seeing the pictures I post, and you’d like to support my photography, please consider taking a look at the store. If there are any pictures which you’d like to buy but that aren’t available in the store, send me a message and I’ll see what I can do!

So I’m attempting to be a bit more “commercial” with my photography. If you have any feedback on the site itself, or the shop, drop me a note via the contact link in the previous paragraph. Also, note that I won’t sell pictures of people without a release, so I won’t use any pictures that I take of cosplayers at cons for commercial purposes unless I have a written agreement with them to do so. I still plan to do hall cosplay, and I still plan to make digital copies of those pictures available for free to people who are in them– though I might offer people the ability to purchase physical prints if there turns out to be any demand for that.

Besides the big Nepal trip coming up, I’ve also gone a few smaller excursions, and had an awesome time. On Tuesday I got to go hiking with some good friends at Sunrise, on Mt. Rainier, up to the Mount Fremont Lookout. It was a fun day– the Sun was sweltering, but the breeze at 6500 feet generally kept us cool. It was also the 34th entry in my Journeys Around Seattle photo series, and you can read the entry and see the pictures at my photoblog here.

The previous week, I went backpacking at Garibaldi Provincial Park with my girlfriend, Lisa, for a few days. We camped on the edge of Lake Garibaldi, which was a beautiful shade of turquoise thanks to all the glacial runoff in the water. The Flickr set of those photos is here, but I’ll also be making some of those landscapes available as prints and pre-cropped backgrounds in my shop. (Did I mention I have a shop over at Journeys in Color?)

Anyway, that’s my life right now. If it seems focused on the photography side of things, that’s kind of because it is, but it’s also because I’ve got a lot of really cool travelling going on right now, and those sort of go hand in hand. I’m also reaching the point where I need to focus on getting the ol’ revenue stream going again, and photography is the first (but not the last) of those endeavours. My writing is still happening, as mentioned above, it’s just that writing tends to take much longer to pay dividends (or even to have interesting news updates).

Lots of cool stories, updates and pictures coming down the pipeline. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Camping Our Way Down the Columbia River Gorge

This week, my girlfriend Lisa was on spring break from grad school, so on Sunday we packed up tent, food, and cameras and drove out the Columbia River Gorge to spend a couple days exploring, hiking, and pretty much just seeing what there was to see. Leaving Seattle, we didn’t have any particular agenda, except that we wanted to drive through the Yakima River Canyon on the way down, and we wanted to visit the Goldendale Observatory on the first night.

When we reached the canyon, we found a little place called the Umtanum Recreation Area, where we pulled over for lunch. From the parking lot, there was a bridge over the Yakima River which led to a hiking trail, so after lunch we hiked across the bridge, over some railroad tracks, and into the canyon. There wasn’t much sign of Spring yet, sadly, except for a few flowers, a bumblebee, and some trees that were just beginning to bud.

As we made our way back along the trail, we wondered if the railroad tracks were active, given that they were so easy to access– a few minutes, a freight train rumbled down the line where I’d be standing a few minutes prior. It was an impressive sight, and trains would be a recurring part of our journey: the Columbia River Gorge is an incredibly active freight corridor, with BSNF trains rumbling past several times an hour. On our second night, camped at Beacon Rock State Park, the train tracks were maybe fifty feet away up a cliffside, and the rumbles and whistles of freight trains were a constant companion through the night.

We had planned on staying at Brooks Memorial State Park on the first night, based on some recommendations in Lisa’s guidebook, but upon arrival there we found that the whole park was still closed for winter. It was a bit of a letdown, given that it was 55 degrees and sunny (and also it wasn’t even actually winter any more). But it would be another recurring theme of our journeys– parks and scenic areas closed, mostly due to budget cuts that meant the parks could only afford to stay open during peak season.

So we pushed on, and found a campsite several miles down the road at Maryhill State Park. It was a nice place– our campsite was right on the Columbia River, and we spent a fair amount of time getting pictures of the river and the gorge. There was a truck stop right across the river, which spoiled the scenery a bit– although it did make for some nice night pictures. And in the morning, we were both grateful it was there, as we availed ourselves of the opportunity for a hot breakfast after spending a restless night on the hard, cold, almost gravelly ground of our tentsite.

On the second day, we made our way down the gorge, stopping for a little hike along the Deschutes River, then lunching at a roadside overlook near The Dalles, Washington after our first two choices (both nearby parks) were, once again, closed for the season. In the afternoon, we drove out of the gorge toward Mt. Adams, exploring the area a bit and getting some great views of the mountain.

At one point, in trying to get to the Big Lava Beds from Trout Lake, we found ourselves on a snowy forest road, and eventually had to turn back, leaving the lava beds for another time. We headed back down to the gorge and camped for the night at Beacon Rock State Park– this plan was almost thwarted when the main camping area there was also Closed For Winter, but luckily there was a year-round campsite right on the river that we were able to set up camp in.

We had originally planned on climbing Beacon Rock in the morning, but after two clear and sunny days, we woke up to the sound of rain on the tent. So rather than take a mile-long trail up a slick rock into a windy, misty, sky, we headed down the road a bit to the Bonneville Dam. We got a personal tour from the guide, saw the fish ladder (including the underwater viewing area, which was pretty awesome, although it was only sparsely populated by fish– we’re already making plans to go back during the peak season).

The rest of the day was mostly occupied by getting home, although we did stop briefly at the Mt. St. Helens Visitors Center to see what there was to see (answer: not much, given the weather). There was a neat little mile-long loop over boardwalks through the nearby wetlands, which we did before heading home.

It was a fun trip, although after two nights of hard ground (Lisa didn’t have a sleeping pad, and I’d forgotten mine) interspersed by nearby nighttime trains, we were both ready for a decent night’s sleep. I’m looking forward to going back in the summer, when hopefully more places are open, and we get to see the gorge in full summer foliage.

But we did get some pretty awesome Winter and Spring photos, if I do say so myself. Click Mt. Adams to check out the full set of pics on Flickr.

Driving to Pasco: A Surprisingly Good Way to Spend a Weekend (thanks to RadCon)

Last Friday I drove over Snoqualmie Pass, where I-90 threads its way through the Cascade Mountains, in slushy rain, dodging traffic and semi-trucks and snowplows. The purpose behind this taking of my life (and my friend Keffy’s) into my hands was in the interest of getting to RadCon, a weekend-long science fiction convention in Pasco. Pasco is one-third of the Tri-Cities area of Washington, about three hours east of Seattle.

This was my first RadCon– I’d eyed it with curiosity over the past couple of years, but scheduling and general laziness meant I wasn’t able to go until this year. And I’m pleased to say it was worth the danger.

RadCon turned out to be a large costuming and gaming convention, that happened to feature a writing track. I didn’t attend any writing panels– all the topics were too basic, frankly, to interest me. Instead, I spend my days attending a few costuming and art panels. At one panel that was supposed to be about lighting a set on a budget (which I hoped might lead to some ideas for studio lighting), none of the panelists showed up, as they were busy making a movie at RadCon. But nevertheless, us audience members bravely soldiered on anyway, discussing our mutual experience (one of the audience members was a stage magician; another was a blacksmith interested in lighting for tutorial videos). It turned out to be one of my favorite panels.

At the writing events I did go to– which mostly ended up being after-hours parties in the small press room and similar things– it felt small, comfortable and intimate. I joined in a discussion with Howard Tayler, the artist Guest of Honor, and several other pros, and all in all had a good time both seeing friends and meeting new ones. A lot of the usual Seattle writing crowd wasn’t there, although a few were– but despite that, RadCon honestly felt like the friendliest con I’ve ever been to. Frequently I found myself in interesting conversations with total strangers, on topics ranging from photography, to the con experience, to life as a geek, to BDSM.

Part of the reason for that may have been how the room parties were arranged– in most cons, you can only drink inside the room parties, which are almost universally loud, cramped, and dark. RadCon, however, was able to close off an entire third-floor section to people 21 and over, which meant that people could mingle in a large, wide balcony/hallway area and could actually talk to each other without forgoing their drinks. It probably also helped that this was pretty much the only area to party– the bar was dead, and there was nowhere else to go– which meant that everyone found that their way there. Pros and fans mingled, writers and gamers and costumers mingled, cheap Jell-O shots were abundant and all in all I had a pretty awesome time.

RadCon also trended a lot younger than most science fiction cons– there were a lot of teenagers and college students there in costume, hanging out with friends. Since RadCon is pretty much the entire convention scene in the Tri-Cities area of Washington, a lot of local folks (especially younger folks) seemed to gravitate to it. RadCon seemed to be the cool place to hang out this weekend, which was kind of nice to see. I am all for having enthusiastic younger people becoming more involved in the fan scene, even if they’re primarily anime or gaming fans for right now as opposed to readers– although I suspect many of them are avid readers as well.

That’s not to say I couldn’t things to complain about. The food options are rather limited, for one. (I’m just glad the fan suite was selling pizza for $2/slice, because that’s pretty much what I lived off of… that and granola bars.) Taking pictures at the Masquerade was kind of terrible, because the lighting setup was apparently designed by someone with a deep visceral hatred of photography. Oh, and I woke up with a hangover on Sunday… although, admittedly, that last one was entirely my fault.

Luckily I shook it off in time to drive back over Snoqualmie Pass while it was still light. Despite a few dire warnings, the conditions were actually better on Sunday than they’d been on Friday.

Next year I will definitely be braving the pass to head to RadCon again.

In the meantime, here’s the slideshow of pictures from the con. I spent most of the weekend doing photography, and all in all, I’m quite happy with the results. There were lots of great costumes (thanks cosplayers!), and the weapons demo and fire show made for some very pretty pictures as well.

Olympic Peninsula Redux

Last June I spent a few days driving around the Olympic Peninsula. I made it up to Hurricane Ridge, to the Hoh Rainforest, and the beaches, and even though the weather wasn’t always great, I enjoyed it immensely.

Later, relaying the details of the trip to my Dad on the phone, I mentioned that it would be a good place for us to go exploring and hiking for a few days. Dad and I have made plenty of similar trips before– in 2003, we went hiking in Wales, and in 2008, we spent a week together in Europe, taking the train from London to Berlin and stopping in Normandy for a few days to pay our respects at the D-Day sites. Not to mention all the trips we took when I was growing up.

Dad and I don’t get to see each other much these days– we live in opposite corners of America, and Dad’s work and travel schedule have kept him busy. So last Friday, May 3, when we met up to go exploring the Olympic Peninsula, it was the first time we’d actually seen each other in over 2 years. Not due to avoidance or anything…. just due to life. (Side note: one really shouldn’t let life do that.)

Anyway, our trip consisted of lots of driving, lots of hiking through the woods (and in snow, and over sand), lots of eating in greasy spoons, lots of talking and catching up, and (perhaps most surprisingly for the Olympic Peninsula) lots of sunlight. There were snow-capped mountaintops, clear views across the Strait of Juan de Fuca and deep into Canada, vibrant sunsets over the Pacific, and warm sunlit beaches bearing more resemblance to the South Pacific than Washington state– at least until you stuck your foot in the water.

I’m really pleased with the entire set of photos I got from the trip (the full set can be seen here on Flickr), but here’s a few of my favorites:

Looking from the Dungeness Spit across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with Mt. Baker in the distance:

Seagulls nesting on a rocky stack off Cape Flattery, at the very Northwest corner of the United States:

A Coast Guard cutter crossing La Push Harbor at sunset:

The Visitor Center at Hurricane Ridge:

Deer along the road near Hurricane Ridge:

The stacks at Rialto Beach (with my Dad in the foreground for comparison), with the famous hole-in-the-wall in the distance:

A sea anemone surrounded by pink lichen:

Starfish in the intertidal zone:

Ferns (and a spider) in the Hoh Rainforest:

An oceanside waterfall, at Third Beach near La Push:

Looking south from Third Beach toward The Giants’ Graveyard:

Marymere Falls:

A bald eagle high up in a treetop, overlooking the beach:

Looking from Port Angeles toward the Olympic Mountains:

I’m sorry, did I say “a few?” I meant fourteen. It’s just that the number of environments and ecosystems we crossed was so huge– from the ocean (above and below the water), to the coastal forest, to the inland rainforest, to the snow-capped mountaintops and everything in between– that it’s difficult to capture the range of what we saw in just a few pictures. And we had perfect weather the whole way, which is pretty extraordinary, given that most of the Olympic Peninsula is absolutely inundated with rain (the Hoh rainforest gets 140 inches a year).

And to get to spend four days catching up with Dad in the midst of all this cool wildlife and weather and scenery? Made it just about the best trip ever.