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Getting Back on the Air

I was granted my ham radio license (KC7AVA) back in January of 1994, and spent many pleasurable hours on the air making contacts with other amateur radio operators around the US and occasionally the world. Using my Kenwood TS-450S, a Butternut vertical antenna, and more often than not, my dad’s Vibroplex bug, I would enjoy hand-copying the steady stream of “dits” and “dahs” from a distant Morse code contact and doing my best to send clean copy back.

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Vibroplex morse code bug
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My rig: Kenwood TS-450S

Once children came along and we moved to Monroe more than 10 years ago, the radio gear remained packed away, waiting for that elusive “some day” with a bit more time to tinker and figure out how to get an antenna up in a residential neighborhood. In late 2004 I finally decided to try getting back on the air. I built a short dipole antenna and strung it up in the attic, running the feed line down to the garage where I set up the radio on my work bench. To my disappointment, I couldn’t hear much of anything and never made a contact with that setup.

Shortly thereafter we moved out to the country, an ideal location for setting up a station, but the house was pretty small and I kept thinking I’d run power out to the old geodesic dome structure that sat on the property and set up a ham shack in there. But I never did, and after we had twins we moved back into a larger house in a quiet residential neighborhood up on the hill above the Monroe fair grounds.

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Our place out on Old Owen Road had lots of ham radio potential – but it was not to be

The next few years were very busy with work, family, and church life merging into a continuous stream of activity, especially with two toddlers seemingly getting into as much mischief as possible. I didn’t think too much about the radio, until a few months ago when I stumbled upon the Ham Nation podcast. Ever since getting my Windows Phone, I’d been enjoying listening to the various TWiT network podcasts such as Tech News Today and Windows Weekly on my commute or while doing chores around the house. One day while mowing the lawn I decided to try Ham Nation and it immediately kindled a nostalgia for the “good old days” of soldering PL259 connectors, working contacts late into the night on Field Day with the Radio Club of Tacoma, sitting down with a cup of coffee in the morning and tuning around to see if the band was opening up. I decided to dust off my trusty Kenwood and get back on the air one way or another.

I set up the radio down in the basement and started making slow but steady progress toward getting the station operational. The first step was to install a decent ground. With my friend Wilson’s help we pounded an 8-foot copper-clad stake into the ground right outside the basement and ran some 6-gauge copper wire between it and the radio. Next I started working on an antenna design. The kids had fun helping me take measurements out in the yard, and I drew a plan on paper for a 40-meter dipole which I figured I could tune up on at least some of the other bands with the TS450’s antenna tuner.

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I suppose I should have drawn the antenna design on a napkin to be truly authentic

While poking around online, I came upon this great article and examples of the “Ugly Balun” and decided I would build one for  my dipole. After getting 150 feet of RG213 from Vetco near work along with PL259 connectors and some decent solder, I was ready to build the balun. I had a lot of fun putting it together out in the garage with the kids helping out.

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4” PVC and RG213
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Winding the 21’ of coax
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Securing coax with cable ties
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So239 installed
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Preparing the coax
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Adding a solder lug
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Connecting the coax to the SO239
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Taping the leads
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Eye-bolt antenna terminals installed
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Time to wire up the terminals
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Unbraiding the dielectric took time!
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All wired up
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The KC7AVA Ugly Balun – ready to go!

The next weekend I finished up the antenna, adding two 34-foot legs of 12 gauge solid-core copper wire – a bit more than I needed so I could trim up the antenna to get it resonant once I raised it, targeting a frequency of 7.1Mhz.

Six year old Liam was my main helper getting the antenna up in the back yard the first day. After stringing it up low to the ground and connecting it to the radio I was encouraged to hear some decent signals, including a bit of 40-meter CW (Morse code). Not anything too strong and even AM stations weren’t exactly booming in, but at least I was receiving. I checked the SWR and it was way off, but after re-measuring and shortening up the ends, I got a nice 1.5:1 on my target frequency.

Later that day I climbed into a cedar tree along the East side of the property and hung the ugly balun. As darkness fell I pulled the antenna legs down into an inverted vee and tied them off. The center was probably at about 50 feet with the ends 20 feet or so off the ground. A big grin spread across my face when I flipped the radio on and tried my usual “initial” receiving tests: AM stations and the UTC time stations out of Fort Collins, Colorado. They were loud and clear, the strongest I’d ever heard them. I quickly jumped to 40-meters and as I tuned around I heard signal after strong signal, both CW and voice (phone). After listening to a few QSOs I moved to 7.1 and sent a test Morse code message. The antenna SWR was nearly a perfect 1:1! That evening I made a couple local contacts (John, K7KHW and Bruce, KF7NRW) on 10 meters and confirmed that I was getting out ok. My first HF contacts since 1998!

The next day after church I got to work finishing the antenna installation. My intention was to move the dipole legs so that they would be less visible. On a whim I decided to move the balun higher up and after clipping it to my belt I started climbing. I kept going and going until the trunk of the cedar was getting thin and I was swaying around a bit more than I liked. I heard shouts from below as the kids discovered me way up in the tree top. I secured the balun at what I’m guessing is around 100 feet up in the tree. The next several hours were spent trying to figure out how to get the antenna legs raised in a respectable configuration. With so many other trees around and the center so high, I needed to get the wires up and over the adjacent tree branches so I could pull them out away from the center. After trying and failing with a variety of approaches, including casting fishing line into the tree tops from the ground, I managed to get each leg pulled out far enough away to make a decent inverted vee shape. The southern leg of the antenna would up coming down over a branch, being pulled into a dog-leg but I figured that wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Hot, scratched, tired, and a little apprehensive about what all that tugging of wires around branches might have done, I headed back in to test the antenna. To my delight and relief, the signals I was getting were even stronger than before, really nice and clear. Testing out the SWR, I noticed that the resonance of the antenna had moved up a bit and I was at 1.5:1 instead of the desired 1:1, which was the only disappointment.

I tuned around on 10 meters and suddenly heard a call from T32C – which a quick search revealed to be a DXPedition on Christmas Island in East Kiribati, 4,500 miles away! He had quite a pile-up and wasn’t able to hear me, but I was just excited to have such a clear copy on the distant station.

A couple days later in the evening I heard T32C again, and this time I made contact. I received a 59 signal report, meaning my signal was booming in strong to the distant island. It was my first long-distance (DX) contact since 1998, making it extra sweet and really confirming, in my own mind at least, that I was finally back up and running.

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Monroe to Christmas Island: 4,500 miles

Christmas Island

Of course with amateur radio there are always many projects ahead, but for now I plan to enjoy my current station, working contacts on 10 meter phone and brushing up on my Morse code skills so I can start making CW contacts on the lower bands. I’m studying for my General class license, which will open up a lot more bandwidth for me to work, and several of the kids have already expressed interest in learning more, and maybe getting started with the Technician license.

73 de KC7AVA

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My station – back on the air

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We’ve made a lot of homemade pizza, but this simple version won raves from the whole family. The dough recipe comes from Peter Reinhart’s great book on pizza, “American Pie” while the sauce was created on the spot and seemed to hit just the right note.

Serves 8

Ingredients

For the dough
5 cups unbleached bread flour
3 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons cool water (65° Fahrenheit)
5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
For the sauce
2 cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste
For the toppings
Freshly grated dry aged cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, or a combination
Fresh whole milk mozzarella cheese (like you would use for caprese salad, not the low-moisture part-skim variety)
Extra virgin olive oil

Prepare the dough

1. With a mixing spoon stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Add the water and olive oil and stir together to combine.

2. Did one hand into water so the dough doesn’t stick, then work the dough in the bowl with the wet hand, turning the bowl with the other hand, until it forms a coarse ball and all the flour is incorporated. This will take about 4 minutes.

3. Let the dough rest 5 minutes, then resume mixing it for another 3 minutes or so until the dough is supple and slightly sticky. You can also knead the dough on an un-floured surface rather than working it in the bowl.

4. Transfer the dough to a floured counter, dust the top with flour, then gather the four corners together to form the dough into a ball.

5. Place the dough into a bowl that has been oiled with olive oil, then turn it over to coat the other side with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit out for 1 ½ hours at room temperature, then transfer it to the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

6. About 2 hours before you are planning to make the pizzas, remove the dough from the refrigerator and transfer it to a floured counter. Use a bench scraper to cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Round each piece into a ball and rub it with olive oil.

7. Place each oiled ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let the dough balls sit at room temperature for two hours.

Make the sauce

1. Puree the tomatoes in a blender

2. Mince the garlic and sauté in the olive oil over medium heat until fragrant

3. Add the pureed tomato and the herbs to the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes

4. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Set aside to cool.

Make the pizzas

1. An hour before you want to make the pizzas, place a pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 450° Fahrenheit

2. While the stone is preheating, slice the mozzarella into ¾ inch slices, then cut each slice into cubes

3. Take one of the dough balls at a time and leave the others covered

4. Place the dough ball on a floured counter and dust the top with more flour

5. Push the dough down into a disc, pat it between your hands, then work it on the counter and stretch it out, turning as you go, until stretched very thin and slightly thicker at the edges. It should be nearly transparent in the middle. No matter if it doesn’t turn out especially round.

6. Place the dough on a pizza peel dusted with a mixture of flour and corn meal

7. Spread 3 tablespoons or so of sauce on the dough, leaving ¼ inch border around the edge

8. Distribute a handful of mozzarella evenly over the pizza, then sprinkle on some of the dry aged cheese

9. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, then slide the pizza onto the preheated stone

10. Bake 9 minutes, then slide the pizza onto a cutting board and let cool for two minutes. Slice into wedges and serve immediately.

Roast Turkey and Gravy

Here is my original Turkey and Gravy recipe, from November 13, 2003.

clip_image002I made this recipe for Thanksgiving a couple years ago when we had our friends Mandi and Phil over; it was far and away the best turkey any of us had ever tasted. I dream about this turkey. I reached a state of ecstasy eating leftovers for days. Especially with the gravy. Absolutely worth all the effort, which is not insubstantial, especially for the gravy. John Speare taught me everything I know about making turkey and gravy. His source material came from Cook’s Illustrated magazine. I have a photocopy of their giblet pan gravy recipe that I’ve used the last couple of years, which is largely reproduced here.

Step 1   Making Stock

You’ll need 6 cups or so of turkey stock for the gravy, so this is the place to start. The key is to do this ahead of time; you don’t want to be trying to make turkey stock the night before Thanksgiving or anything, although I’ve done it. Having a couple quarts of homemade stock all ready to go makes a huge difference. Homemade stock, when done right, is amazing stuff. You can use it for sauces, soups, gravies, etc. It’s extremely versatile, and can easily be frozen for later use.

6-8 turkey necks (you can also supplement the necks with turkey wings)

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1 rib celery, roughly chopped

1 carrot, roughly chopped

6 parsley sprigs

2 Tbs vegetable oil

Dry vermouth

I get my turkey necks from Larry’s Market. I don’t normally use wings, but they’re supposed to work well.

1. Chop up the necks into 2 inch pieces with a cleaver.

clip_image0042. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat. You need a lot of surface area to brown the necks, so an oval variety such as a Le Creuset 6 ½ qt variety is ideal.

3. Once the oil is good and hot, add the first batch of necks in a single layer to the pan. Every piece needs to be in contact with the bottom of the pan. Be careful not to overfill.

4. Brown the necks on all sides. The pan should be very hot, oil should spatter, and the necks should get a good brown crust. The bottom of the pan should get a bunch of brown stuff sticking to it (fond); this is the key to good stock. Periodically scrape the fond off the bottom with a wooden spatula.

5. Once the necks have been browned on all sides, dump them out on a plate. Add a bit more oil to the pan and brown the next batch. Keep doing this until all the necks are browned and on the plate.

6. Put the empty pan back on the burner and make sure it’s hot. Pour in some vermouth (about ¼ cup) to deglaze and vigorously scrape up the fond on the bottom.

7. Throw in the carrots, celery, and onions (or leave out the onions for Mike-friendly stock). Cover with a lid and turn the heat down to low. Let simmer for 20 minutes until the onions have leached out their juices.

8. Add the turkey necks back into the pan and fill with water until the necks are covered by about an inch of water.

9. Add the parsley sprigs. You can also throw in a bay leaf, some peppercorns, thyme sprigs, or other herbs to give a bit of extra flavor.

10. Simmer for a couple hours.

11. Strain with a colander into a mixing bowl. Restrain with a mesh strainer if you want to get all the bits out.

12. Refrigerate overnight. The next morning skim off the layer of fat floating on the surface. Pour the stock (if you did a good job it should be somewhat gelatinous) into a Tupperware or other container. You can freeze whatever you don’t use for the gravy up to about 3 months.

Step 2   Brining the Turkey

3 cups kosher salt

1 cup sugar

Bucket with lid

2 gallons water

12-14 lb fresh turkey

Brining is essential to getting a juicy turkey that’s cooked all the way through but without the breast being dry. It does wonders. You’ll never go back after trying it. The timing is a bit tricky because you want to give the bird time to air-dry after soaking in the brine, which helps contribute to a nice crispy brown skin.

Make sure to get a small, fresh turkey that hasn’t been frozen. 15 pounds is the absolute limit. 12-14 is ideal. It’s more than enough turkey and the results will be very superior. A couple warnings: make sure you don’t get a kosher bird, which will already have been soaked in a salt solution. Also make sure you don’t accidentally wind up with one of those hideous self-basting turkeys with the built-in thermometer that have been injected with “fat, broth, and ‘flavor-enhancers’” as I believe the bird I wound up with last year said.

1. You need a bucket or other container with a lid that will hold the turkey. It shouldn’t be so big that the turkey can turn while it’s brining. A big stock pot would also work well. I’ve used empty buckets from Nagoya Teriyaki that soy sauce comes in.

2. The morning of the day before Thanksgiving, fill the bucket with 2 gallons of water. Add the salt and sugar and stir until thoroughly dissolved.

3. Rinse the turkey, remove the neck and giblets from the body cavity and set aside for the gravy. Put the turkey in the bucket and pop on the lid. Put the bucket in the refrigerator or outside; the temperature needs to be no warmer than 40 degrees.

4. The evening before Thanksgiving, after the turkey’s been in the brine for at least 8 hours, remove it from the brine and rinse it very thoroughly for a couple minutes under cold water, inside and out. Pat it dry with paper towels inside and out, then put it on a rack over a cookie sheet in the refrigerator. Let air dry overnight.

Step 3   Making the Gravy Base

1 Tbs vegetable oil

Reserved giblets and neck

1 small yellow onion, roughly chopped

11/2 quarts turkey stock

2 thyme branches

8 parsley stems

The night before Thanksgiving, while the turkey is brining or drying, make the base for the gravy. Despite any misgivings you might have about the giblets, they really do add some good flavor.

1. Use a cleaver to hack the turkey neck into 2-inch pieces.

2. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat; sauté the giblets and neck pieces until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the onion and sauté another 5 minutes.

4. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until the turkey and onion have released their juices, about 20 minutes.

5. Add the stock, thyme, and parsley. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes or so, skimming off any scum that rises to the surface.

6. Strain broth through a colander into a bowl. Restrain through a mesh strainer.

7. Discard giblets and necks. If you want the truly classic “giblet pan gravy” then you should actually dice up the giblets, shred the neck meat, and throw these in the gravy at the end. However I just use these for flavor. I haven’t yet convinced Kim that a chunk of turkey heart floating in her gravy is good eating.

8. Store the base in a Tupperware or other container in the refrigerator until needed for the gravy on Thanksgiving.

Step 4   Roasting the Turkey

1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 ½ medium carrots, roughly chopped

1 ½ celery stalks, roughly chopped

6 thyme sprigs

3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

1 cup water

Large roasting pan

V-rack

Turkey baster

The perennial problem with roasting a turkey is that by the time the dark meat is cooked, the breast is dried out. Brining goes a long way to alleviating this problem, but the other key is to not have the breast directly exposed to the heat the entire time. In an oven the heat circulates around and rises, being hottest near the top. So you start with the breast down, then flip the turkey on its side, then the other side, and finally finish with the breast up. A v-rack makes it easy to roast the turkey on its sides and is a necessary piece of equipment if you don’t want to worry about the turkey crashing over during roasting.

1. Preheat over to 400 degrees and adjust oven rack to lowest position.

2. Toss one-third of onion, carrot, celery, and thyme with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and place this mixture in body cavity.

3. Truss the turkey: bring turkey legs together and tie with kitchen twine. Tie another piece around the turkey, pinning the wings against the body.

4. Scatter the rest of the vegetables and thyme in the roasting pan. Pour in the cup of water.

5. Rub the v-rack with vegetable oil and place in the pan. Brush the turkey breast with 1 Tbs of the butter, then place the turkey breast-side down on the v-rack. Brush the underside of the turkey with the remaining butter.

6. Roast for 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven quickly, making sure to let out as little heat as possible. Baste the turkey with juices from pan. Using potholders or paper towels, flip the turkey carefully onto its side, being careful not to tear the skin. If liquid in pan has totally evaporated, add another 1/2 cup water.

7. Return turkey to oven and roast another 20 minutes. Repeat as before, basting the turkey and flipping onto the other side.

8. Roast for another 20 minutes. Remove turkey from oven a final time, baste, and turn it breast side up. Add more liquid to the pan if necessary.

9. Roast until breast registers about 165 degrees and thigh registers 170 to 175 degrees, 30 to 45 minutes longer. I like to use a digital thermometer with a long wire attached to a probe that plugs into the readout base. This lets you keep the thermometer in the turkey while it’s in the oven and be able to read the temperature outside the oven. Once the turkey is done (it’s much better to err on the side of over-cooked then undercooked!), remove turkey from pan and let rest on a cutting board until ready to carve (15 minutes is about right).

Step 5   Making the Gravy

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup flour

1 cup dry white wine (vermouth, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc)

Salt and ground black pepper

Finishing up the gravy is a two-step process. The first step is to make the roux and add it to the gravy, which should be done while the turkey is roasting. Then while the turkey is resting, finish the gravy using the pan drippings.

1. While turkey is roasting, bring the reserved turkey base to a simmer.

2. Heat butter in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Vigorously whisk in the flour (roux will froth and then thin out again). Cook slowly, stirring constantly, until nutty brown and fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes. Vigorously whisk all but 1 cup of hot broth into roux. Bring to a boil, then simmer until gravy is thickened and very flavorful, about 30 minutes longer. Set aside until turkey is done.

3. While the turkey is resting, tilt the roasting pan so that the juices all run into one corner. Spoon off as much fat as possible. Don’t be afraid to spoon off too much fat, as you don’t want the gravy to be greasy.

4. Return gravy to simmer. Place the roasting pan over two burners on the stove and set the heat to medium-high. If the drippings are not already a dark brown, stir until they caramelize.

5. With the pan good and hot, pour in the wine to deglaze, vigorously scraping up the browned bits and caramelized vegetables and herbs with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil and reduce by half, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining cup of broth, then strain the pan juices into the gravy, mashing the vegetables and herbs down to press out as much juice as possible. Discard the vegetables.

6. Bring the gravy to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Step 6   Carving the Turkey

Fresh herbs for garnish

Very sharp non-serrated knife

Serving platter

Carving the turkey at the table is a nice moment of traditional culinary drama, but if you don’t like the time pressure, bring out the turkey for everyone to admire, then take it back into the kitchen and carve it, then return with the carved pieces on a platter, surrounded by a nice garnish of herbs (sage, rosemary, kumquats add some nice color). That’s the approach I take when roasting a chicken, although for Thanksgiving I usually carve tableside on a little side table. Serve the turkey on a warm platter so it doesn’t get cold. Just warm the serving platter in the oven for a few minutes before carving.

Serve with the gravy, mashed potatoes, yams, olives, cranberry sauce, and corn fritters.

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Thanksgiving 2009 Game Plan

image Only one week until Thanksgiving, so now is the time to get a plan in place that will set us up for some flawless gustatory execution! 

Below is the proposed plan, subject to refinement.

Where
Kim & Randy’s
049

Rough Schedule
Arrival and light appetizer: between 12:00 and 1:00
Linger over dinner: 2:00 – 3:30
Cleanup: 3:30 – 4:00
Relax by the fire: 4:00 – 5:00
Christmas stories & lights: 5:00
Pumpkin pie: 5:30
Quick cleanup: 6:00
Games & Visiting: 6:15 – 10:00

Who’s doing what
Last year seemed to work really well, so f each person can again volunteer to prepare and serve one food item and take on one task, that will really help out. Let me know and I’ll update the list.

Menu

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Turkey Randy
Gravy Randy / Mom
Mashed Potatoes  
Corn Fritters Ryan
Olives, gherkins, cranberry sauce Mom
Yams Mom
Rolls  
Stuffing  
Light Appetizer  
Beverages Ryan
Asparagus Tammy
Pumpkin Pie  
Pecan Pie Mom

Tasks

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Fill water glasses and light candles

 
Set table  
Photographer  
Wiping down the tables and chairs after dinner Ryan
Sweep the floor after table/ chairs get wiped down Ryan
Clear table  

Clear Table

Tammy
Scrape plates and fill dishwasher  
Hand wash pots and dishes that don’t fit in dishwasher Mom
Dry hand washed dishes  

Put away leftover food

 

Can’t wait to see everyone who can make it in just seven days.

gravy 

Will Mom unseat Randy in the gravy taste-off and regain the title? I think we need an American’s Cup style trophy that trades hands…

April 17th was my much anticipated first hike of the season. I picked my friend Jose up at 6:00 AM and we headed east over Stevens Pass, both of us wondering how our bodies would hold up. Our destination: Fourth of July Creek Trail, about 6 miles due west of Leavenworth.

In Leavenworth we stopped for breakfast at Sandy’s Waffle and Dinner House, then headed out Icicle Creek Road to the trailhead.

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A light rain was falling as I pointed out our destination high above, and after signing in at the trailhead at 9:00 AM, we began our ascent.

Things started out nice and easy as we entered the woods, with a gentle slope up as we crossed a gurgling stream.

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Jose fords the stream

The trail soon began to climb. Jose seemed pretty unfazed, but my poor Microsoft-conditioned body was already beginning to protest.

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As we climbed higher we started to hear an odd sound: “hoo…hoo…hoo.” We discussed what it could be but neither of us were able to identify the sound. Stopping for a brief water break, I wandered up the hill a bit and started a large brown bird, which went scurrying into the woods. I thought it was either a grouse or a pheasant. Soon we rounded a corner and discovered the source of the noise perched on a rock outcropping.

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It turns out this impressive looking bird is a sooty grouse. He was extremely interested in perfecting his mating call and hardly paid us any heed as we crept closer and closer, except to turn and give me a bit of a glare as I crept past.

All along the trail we could see evidence of the massive wildfire that swept through this area in the early nineties.

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After two and half hours of hiking we had climbed 1,400 feet to an altitude of 3,618, where we began to encounter snow on the trail.

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We tried to stay on the trail and were soon filling our boots up with snow as we waded through the drifts, which were up to our waists in places. I wasn’t sure we could keep going given the trail conditions. Jose wasn’t too thrilled about hiking in the snow either, but whereas I was assuming that meant we’d have to turn back before too long, Jose kept looking mischievously straight up the hillside.

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Was he serious? I followed Jose’s gaze up the rugged, rock-strewn incline. I paused, then shrugged my shoulders. Why not? Jose plunged ahead with abandon while I struggled to convince my legs to take one more step. This was serious scrambling now, with my hands doing a lot of the work as the hill grew even steeper. It was strenuous, but I had to admit that I was enjoying this more than plunging about in the cold snow.

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We climbed five hundred feet to an altitude of 4,100, where I found Jose contentedly refreshing himself under a massive pine tree as I collapsed nearby. We had a brief lunch and rest before pressing on.

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Eventually we ran back into the trail, but it was still too snowed in to use for more than a short distance. I tried going one way and Jose explored the other, trying to find a way up that was snow free. I ran into some great views but lots of snow, and eventually had to back-track and climb after Jose, who found another rugged but relatively dry way up.

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We stopped to admire the view out over icicle creek valley and the 8,448 foot peak of Cashmere Mountain, directly across from us.

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At this point we were at about 4,500 feet and it was 12:30. We decided to try and reach at least 5,000 feet before turning back. We climbed on, and I really mean climbed. We were literally using our hands to grab onto rocks and hauling ourselves up at various points. It became harder and harder to find a path that didn’t require scrambling through deep snow, but we managed to pick our way higher and higher, slowly pressing upward.

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Looking back down the mountain

Finally we reached a rock outcropping. I checked the GPS and we were at 5,088 feet. Success!

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We paused to appreciate the sheer wonder of God’s creation.

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…but we weren’t above a little clowning around.

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We thought about trying to go a bit higher, but at this point it was 1:00 PM and we’d been on the trail a good four hours. Not to mention as we looked up the hill it didn’t appear there were many snow-free options.

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We began heading back down, discovering that you can go a lot faster when gravity is working with you.

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It took us about two hours to make it back down, which was roughly double the speed it took us to climb up. On the way down the sun was out and the dusty smell of hot pine needles reminded me vaguely of summer’s on Lopez Island in the San Juan’s. We enjoyed watching several chipmunks as we picked up the trail and made our way back. Exhilarated from the hike, we stopped for a delicious early dinner of fresh Mexican food at South’s in Leavenworth, before doing a little shopping and heading back over the mountains. It was a perfect way to start out the hiking season.

Route and Hike Data

Hike data:

Start time

9:02 AM

End time

2:46 PM

Total hike time

5 hours 44 minutes

Starting elevation

2,271 feet

Max elevation

5,088 feet

Elevation gain

2,817 feet

Distance

6.5 miles

Here’s a terrain map showing our route up (green) and back down (red) the mountain.

fourth-of-july-creek

Here’s an alternate view overlaid using Google Earth that gives a good idea of the terrain and how far up we made it.

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Elevation profile:

elevation-profile

Thanks to Perry Burkhart for suggesting this hike.

A Geocaching Misadventure

I woke the girls up at 5:30 AM with plans for a nice hike to a cache named Panorama that is supposed to offer a grand view of the Monroe area. On a clear day you can see Seattle.

After fueling up at Denny’s, we headed out of town on 203 heading towards Duvall. I punched the cache coordinates into my Garmin Nuvi and figured that should take us to the logging road I remember reading about on the cache description. Sure enough, about 7:00 AM we pulled up in front of a closed DNR gate, with only about enough room for one car to park nearby, which I also remembered from the cache description.

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Elise and Lauren are ready for the hunt!
 

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Elise checks the bearing to the cache.

As we started, the cache was about half a mile southeast of us. The path quickly diverged in the wood, and we took the road less traveled by – but it only led to a dead-end strewn with rough boulders and animal bones.

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We continued on through the chilly mist. The girls had great attitudes and were clearly enjoying being back in the woods.

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As the road ahead switch-backed towards the cache, the GPS said we were about 1 mile away. So far so good.

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We stopped for a quick break once we rounded the corner and were headed uphill towards the cache coordinates. The sunrise was bathing the trees with golden light as we prepared to start closing in.

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But for some reason, the path ahead quickly appeared to turn back away from the cache.

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Hmmm, something’s not right here.  

Assuming the “real” switch-back must be still to come, we pressed on. Soon the girls were fearlessly crossing a small stream via a log.

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They made it look so easy. When it was my turn, I almost slipped right off. The log was covered in slick frost!

After walking awhile longer, and with the cache location showing as 1.25 miles from us, the path showed no sign of heading back in the direction I expected. I called Kim on my cell phone and had her read me the cache description. It just didn’t sound right. It mentioned several gates we should have seen when we started out on the DNR road, and I didn’t remember seeing any. By this time it was 9:00 AM, and the girls were late for school and I was late for work. So we reluctantly headed back the way we came.

On the walk back, we saw mixed deer tracks and very large cat tracks in some mud. The girls enjoyed speculating what might have happened in that encounter. Back at the car, I got out my laptop and looked up the cache info using the ever-handy GSAK program, which has all the nearby caches loaded into it. I punched in the coordinates listed for the gate and immediately realized that whatever gate we had found, it was definitively not the gate we were supposed to start at.

After driving a couple miles to the correct gate, we forlornly decided we didn’t have time for a second go at Panorama today. We did manage to find three caches along our route on the way home, which was a lot of fun. Lauren found two of the caches and I found the third in Monroe.

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Lauren zeroes in on Briar Patch.

Here’s what went wrong. Note the location where we should have parked (“correct gate”) versus where we did park (click for larger view).

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Cartographic notes: Panorama (the cache) is the green icon in the center. The blue line shows the track we took. The straight lines coming in from the upper-right corner and cutting back to the parking spot are because I had the GPS off for those portions of the trip.

As you can see, we were totally on the wrong track! Good thing I didn’t try to “bushwhack” our way to the cache. But I learned my lesson and will pay careful attention to the cache description next time. On the other hand, we had a great time exploring a trail through the woods that otherwise I’m sure we probably never would have discovered. We’ll definitely be back for another shot at Panorama!

Geocaching

For Christmas Mike very generously gave me a Garmin Nuvi GPS receiver so I can stop getting lost whenever I try and drive anywhere. I’d heard of geocaching, where you try and locate hidden “caches” using GPS coordinates, but only recently became really interested after a friend told me about some of his geocaching exploits. Now that I had a GPS receiver, I decided to give it a try.

Last night Elise, Lauren and I formed the Treit Geocaching Club. We wrote up a detailed constitution. Here’s a flavor of the document:

Goals of the Club

1. Have fun
2. Explore new areas
3. Learn
4. Clean up the environment

Rules of the Club

1. The club shall consist of a Club President and Members
2. Club decisions shall be decided by vote. In the event of a tie vote, the Club President shall decide
3. Club members may geocache without other club members only if the other members are unavailable or don’t feel like going
4. Good attitudes are required when on a cache hunt. Uttering the words “I’m bored” or a similar sentiment is grounds for expulsion from the club.
5. The club shall practice “Cache In Trash Out”

We all had a great time with a map spread out on the kitchen table last night, learning about latitude and longitude.

This afternoon it was off to find our first cache.

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Our first target was a cache called “Deer Tracks” which is quite close to home. After braving some sticker bushes and making our way into the woods, we spent a lot of time fruitlessly digging around a big cedar tree before I realized that while I thought my Garmin was showing us at the coordinates, we were actually about fifty feet away. Once we got to the correct spot, it only took a couple minutes of searching to find the cache. We were all very excited!

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Elise and Lauren with our first Cache.

After signing the log with my geocaching.com handle (rtreit), Elise took a matchbox car from the cache and replaced it with a toy deer (for deer tracks, naturally).

After a trip to the post office and a  celebratory cookie from the Sky River Bakery, the girls wanted to try “just one more.” I had loaded a number of caches into my GPS, so I pointed us at the nearest one and off we went to try and find cache number two.

This was an interesting location, a small little park that I had no idea existed just past our church. Elise and Lauren had fun climbing the big cherry tree while I honed in on the coordinates.

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This was a micro cache, just big enough for the log book. It was cleverly hidden, and I won’t give away the secret.

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Of course, after nailing two caches, we couldn’t just stop there. Next up, another micro-cache out on Chain Lake road. Elise and Lauren picked up litter while I worked the GPS unit.

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Soon we had number three in the bag. We were starting to feel like experts.

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With cries of “one more! one more!” I dutifully headed down a small road that ended in a concrete barrier and some kind of trail. It was getting dark and I was having some trouble with the GPS signal. We spent a lot of time searching around the barrier but finally had to admit defeat. We’ll be back for another go at this one soon!

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