Day 2 – On the Trail Again

Darling River to Tsusiat Falls (11km)

We woke up on this morning to find ourselves engulfed in the misty rain that is so characteristic of the region. It creeps in and then just sits there on top of you. The weather does, however, help everyone pack up with increased efficiency. Rob had dazzled us just two days prior with his modular, stripped down pack from eBay. Unfortunately, the ultralight pack, which sat on a hook on a belt, broke before we were 5km into the hike. Today he was once again exhibiting the pinnacle of equipment performance with his rain poncho/pack cover all in one. The concept – like that of the pack – was solid but in practice it presented issues. The elastic cord to cinch up portions of the poncho ended up dragging behind Rob, occasionally getting hooked on roots and branches. Josh, who was Rob’s unofficial guardian on the trip, would have stop Rob once the cord had stretched about 25ft behind him and before it would release and snap back at Rob.

Personally I felt this was the worst/hardest day of the entire hike. The trail was much more rugged than the first section but not as rugged as we would run into later and I had this biting pain in my Achilles from the boot. It made the relatively short day go on forever. Day two did give us our first cable car of the hike. No matter how bad the day is going the sight of some serious mechanical hardware makes you feel like a kid.

Our stopping point for the day was the Tsusiat Falls campsite, perhaps the most picturesque of all the sites along the trail. We got there at a decent hour and had some time to enjoy this idyllic spot. We were sure about the rules regarding bathing in the water since everyone was also using it to obtain their drinking water but we some people go for it. For dinner that night we had hummus, textured vegetable protein (TVP) flavored with Middle Eastern spices, couscous and tomatoes. Also we were beginning to realize that our planned meals were actually much larger than needed for the group. We managed to give our extra hummus and couscous to a young Vancouver Island native to whom we gave the name Lars and whom we saw at several other points along our trip. Despite my feelings about the day’s section of trail our trip was back on track and we were moving closer to our ultimate goal.

Day 1 – "A Whale of a Time"

Pachena Bay Trailhead to Darling River (14km)

What else can you say when the captain of the captain of the whale research vessel you just hitched a ride on asks you to sign his guestbook? (see post title) We started our day at a hotel in Port Renfrew and boarded the vessel sometime just after 6:30. I thought we were just getting a ride to the northern trailhead but it turned out that Brian (captain, my captain) was a whale researcher and halfway up there he got word of some orca and we turned that boat around. We got to see several orca and learned about the different types, how they are identified and how they operate socially – it’s matriarchal with the oldest female (some nearing 100 years old) making all the decisions for the pod. We also saw gray whales (less exciting) and sea lions. Rob offered a kid (maybe 10) who had just finished the trail skittles in exchange for carrying his pack for the old man. From then on out we were calling Rob “Skittles” and thinking of nicknames for everyone else on the trip.

From the town of Bamfield we hopped in a shuttle van to the trailhead, signed some papers and were ready to set off. The first day’s hike went pretty smoothly. We stopped for lunch at Pachena Lighthouse – very near Vulva Mouth Beach on map – , started to lay down a communication routine and began to understand what we were in for. About 12 km in we popped out at Michigan Creek beach camping – a popular spot for the northbounders – and kept on going to Darling River just 2k down the beach. The beach terrain of large rocks and then soft gravel was far different from the dirt and boardwalk of the forest trail we had started on. About 15 minutes into the beach travel we spotted a black bear ahead of us on the beach. We (6) all stopped and waited to see what it would do. It eventually turned and headed into the woods with a seal in its mouth. Half the group (led by Rob) pushed forward after about 2 minutes and even stopped where the bear had been to look around, fix gaiters, etc. Graham, Matt and I waited a bit longer. Eventually we proceeded and once about 100 ft for the spot of the original sighting we noticed a black mass that had re-emerged from the forest. We walked backward, Graham with his poles flying in the air, and sat on the beach for another 15 minutes. Meanwhile a bald eagle flew overhead, someone spotted a whale off the coast and we realized we were in the wilderness.

That night at camp was a little it rough. Everyone was still at the feeling things out phase and everyone had their own routines for camping – dinner, water shelter, etc. – but the group did not have a routine that was held in common yet. The planned meal ended up not happening as we arrived later than expected and instead we got by with readymade dehydrated meals in a bag. The food locker was full before we got ours in and trees to hang from were hard to come by. Our bags were hung just out of human reach and from a tree that was fallen and tilted out over the beach. Also one of our food bags was just a trash bag wrapped in rope like gift for the bears. We were obviously novice but the learning curve is steep. Stay tuned to hear if we turned this ship around (literally).

WCT – We (well, some of us) made it!!

I am now back safely from the trip to Vancouver Island and the hike on the West Coast Trail. The hike was exciting, unpredictable and rewarding. We had really good weather and saw a lot of wildlife. My walk from the train to work in Atlanta’s code orange air this morning had me feeling more dirty than I ever felt in 8 days without a shower on the trail. I look forward to sharing our stories and experiences with you in person as well as through the blog. To whet your appetite I will tell you that we spent 7 nights on the trail, had mostly great weather (one big rain day) and started our trip with 8 hikers but finished only with 6.

I would like to start the adventure by introducing everyone.
Duke – the leader of the pack, lives in Seattle, has had this trip on his mind for some time now and made the whole thing happen

Rob – Duke’s elder brother, ultralight, giggles a lot, answers questions like there is such a thing as a stupid question and you just asked him one

Richie – Duke’s childhood friend from scouts, consultant to National Athletic teams for the Nation of Bahrain so he know what being in shape means

George – A jean-shorts-clad friend of Richie’s in New Mexico, most recent conquest was a 31 day fitness boot camp immersion experiment that lasted 31 days

Matt – Duke’s son, the guy who invited me along,

Graham – Duke’s future son-in-law, patient and knowledgeable, fresh from a bike-car accident that had him in the hospital less than a week before (shoulder)

Josh – Graham’s friend from childhood, unfortunate recipient of guff from the older guys

me – Matt’s friend from grad school in Atlanta, Pacific NW first-timer and Canadian impersonator

I am planning to add posts detailing each day of the journey but wanted to put up a link to the pictures that many of you have asked about.

the photos


Today I leave from Atlanta and fly to Seattle to begin the journey to the West Coast Trail. There has been a flurry of activity over email between the eight men setting off on this trip. Some of the discussion was humorous other parts analytical, but hopefully we’re all set mentally and materially for the hike. I have finally begun to research a bit about just what it is I’ve signed up for and the more you look into it the more you fear. At first you hear miles of British Columbia coastline in late July and beautiful panoramas appear in your head. Then you begin to read about the trials of the others who have gone before you and you instinctively second guess your initial leanings.

Seriously, it is rumored to be difficult but everyone says that it’s well worth it. Stay tuned for updates upon my return. I’ve created a new label (WCT) for all the posts relating to the West Coast Trail so you can read the whole story start to finish if you like.

Mudhounds – a good diary with pictures from some folks who have been there and done that

Trips Abound

A week from today I head to Seattle and immediately on to Vancouver to hike the West Coast Trail. I have not been keeping up with a training regimen the way I would have hoped but I think I am in good shape for the trip. It will help that it is not 90 with 95% humidity out there, not to mention the break from the ground-level ozone. There’ll be another hike on Sunday to warm up and then its all learning-by-doing. I appreciate any advice/suggestions for the trip people want to offer up.

Speaking of taking a trip, Jorge has returned home but not without his fair share of harrowing culture shock. First he forgot a bag containing passport, hard drive digital camera, books, etc. in a cab. But, as it goes in much of the world, there were many sets of eyes on the street and someone saw the the cab’s number. He narrowed it down to two cabs and found the drivers before the police. The driver’s were angry about the possible police attention and the accusations and didn’t produce any reclamations. This all happened on his vacation on the coast and he had to move on, so he hired a guy there to stay on the case and low and behold the bag turned up, less camera, hard drive and some books. But he got his passport back and safely returned to Bogotá. But he wasn’t done paying a second time for his own possessions. The bike he packed and mailed to himself from Atlanta was deemed an import and charged taxes. Is this an import? I am not sure. It was not in the condition that it is usually shipped from the company and sold, but there is surely a market for it as it was. In any event he’s home and reminiscing his time here already.

And then there’s the honeymooners. Paul and Hilary are somewhere still, hopefully not Bermuda, and soon Ben and Katy will be returning from their trip to Europe which sounded amazing. Their advice: drop what you’re doing and go to Slovenia immediately. Finally, our friends Dave and Liza have taken a trip (one-way) out west to Salt Lake City. They’ve gone there to live and work as Dave continues his education/professional program. We’ll miss them and wish them the best of luck.

May Daze

I consider myself pretty lucky. I don’t think I’m one to plan big outings but still continue to find myself involved in them and having a great time, all thanks to the hard work of others. (click photos for more photos)

For four weekends in-a-row during May I was out of town on a trip of some sort. On the 9th Shannon and John set up a camping trip on Jekyll Island that we were fortunate enough to be a part of. Shannon is a wizard at these things and I am not surprised that this trip was awesome. We all took our bikes down there and rode around the entire island.

A week later Lauren and her mom organized a meetup in Blowing Rock, NC. The plan was for them to drive down from the northeast with a table that was made for us by a townsman up there (who coincidentally presided over our wedding) and we would meet them, hang out and take the table the rest of the way home. It gave us a chance to see them, them a chance to see other family in the area, and us a chance to get the table which could not be taken apart and shipped. Lauren and I rented a Dodge truck and headed out early on Saturday. In another stroke of good fortune we all stayed in a house owned by some extended family and had the opportunity to visit the quaint mountain towns, including Boone. There the people were surprisingly gentle as they came to find out I had loyalties to the University of Michigan. We also found out of some bouldering spots very close to the house up there and made it out to the Blowing Rock Boulders twice.

The following week was Memorial Day weekend and thanks to the splendid vision of Liza’s sister, Jess, we were set up in a beachside condo on Folly Island near Charleston, SC. We enjoyed lot of beach time as well as complimentary breakfast and happy hours. We also made it into the city to see the historic preservation efforts of the city and got to pay attention to some of the ultra high class old-money you might not expect of South Carolina. It was captivating but a bit surreal at the same time.

Finally last weekend I got off my butt and did some planning. I booked a backcountry site at Black Rock Mountain State Park for a weekend in the mountains. Lauren was off in Yellowstone for work and I used it as an opportunity to take Jorge out to see some of Georgia and visit a different park named for a colorful cobble. Dave and TJ made it up on Saturday to make it an official festival de salchica and for some creekside debauchery.

I also used it as an opportunity to get some hiking practice in for an upcoming trip on the west coast. In late July I will be heading to British Columbia to do the West Coast Trail with 7 other compatriots. The trip deserves more mention than I give it here and I will be providing updates and recaps as it nears and takes place.

This weekend I’ll be at home in Atlanta, taking care of all the things I have neglected during May (ironically the month of May ‘labor’ Day). I’ll be thinking of all the effort that others put into making this a great May for me and wondering what I can plan to give them some fun.

Straight Diesel

In this string of updates about the projects I am working on I would like to present the latest; the Railyard Risk Assessment. This project focuses on a hazard, quantification of possible exposures, use of dose-response information to determine risk, and a summary that expands on uncertainties and tries to give an idea of what it all means. This, apparently, is risk assessment.

Thanks to Ben’s extracurricular work, we landed a nice project right here in Atlanta. We decided to look at residences being built right next to two large rail yards on Atlanta’s west side.
We modeled the emissions coming from the yard’s activities (using a Cali yard as a proxy) and then used a model from EPA to obtain the resultant concentrations of diesel particulate matter at the new homes. The actual risk is still being determined but the results could prove to be very interesting. Below is a movie shot from one of the lots. The most perfect irony of this is that these new homes are Earth Craft, a green building certification that puts the word “healthy” in the first sentence of its self-description. This is one example of how marketing and narrowly focused, under-developed certifications are capitalizing on ‘green‘ (also read healthy) trends without necessarily furthering the whole objective.

GA Clean Diesel
interested in buying one these homes?
More photos of the yard here

Blog Like a Pro

Last week I mentioned an episode of This American Life that discussed a phenomenon known as the flow, but the real theme of the episode was meeting the pros. It included stories about average people who get to talk with, observe and maybe learn from the pros. For example a casual poker player who gets to sit down with a pro from the World Series. My own story is not nearly as interesting but I saw this headline and it seemed like a good segway.

“Learn to Bike Like a Pro”

I should mention that I’m in the process of helping to plan a bike to school day for Emory, specifically the school of public health. So when this ad popped up in the campus paper it caught my attention and my criticism. The first thing it does is romanticize the bike messenger. I don’t wanna get started on hipsters (as I write in my BLOG! [so cool]) but while bike messengers may actually be pros it is not the goal that most of the class’ participants will hope to achieve. Notwithstanding the overdone wardrobe (cog patterned shirt) and ‘extreme’ styling (frosted tips) of this biker, messengers tend to ride in some of the most intimidating conditions, and tend to do so dangerously. The current trend is to ride a fixed gear bike; the same they use at the velodrome. This is a bike that does not have a flywheel like your old ten speed and so the pedals move with the wheel (forward and back). It only offers you a single gear but more importantly the only way to stop is to slow the pedals by resisting the momentum you created in the first place. In other words they have no brakes. A precarious situation for those who ride (fast) in the intersection laden traditional grid patterns of most urban centers. Most importantly, these guys lacks a helmet. The graphic artist tried to hide this blurring the photo at the top but it had the added effect of making it look like he’s going really fast. So bike fast, without brakes or helmets like the pros.

But it turns out that it’s not just the pros, they start em young too. Stunningly this example comes from a book entitled Urban Sprawl and Public Health. It co-authors include both the current and former head of CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. Somehow the kids on the cover made it onto the book without helmets. It may be because they live on those icons of the suburbs, the cul de sac. The streets gained such popularity with American families because of their low and slow traffic volumes, which allowed children to play in the street without great risk of automobile collision. Now they’re being rethought since one of the reasons they have so little traffic is because they go nowhere. I should say here that all of my crashes have only involved me and the cement, never any other cars.

Vargo lives and bikes (fast, but with brakes) in Atlanta. He didn’t always but now he never rides without the helmet. He also listens to his iPod while biking.

Urban Sprawl & Public Health

Parking Lots for People

I have not been a full time student at Georiga Tech since Spring of 2006 but I go back for a class here or there, to work on my thesis at the Center for GIS, and to play soccer. Like so many college campuses it is constantly the site of large demolition and construction projects. However, the largess of a university along with the prime real estate and the tenure of their stay can sometimes produce pleasantly surprising results. One project know as the Georgia Tech Eco Commons continuously came up in my planning classes. The idea was to uncover a creek (now covered by a parking deck, roads, and a common lawn) that originally ran through campus and reinstate the riparian habitat linearly through campus, partially to help with stormwater. This might be far off into the future but other such projects have moved along swiftly.

The most apparent example for me has been the conversion of the parking lots that previously served the College of Architecture and another building. About a year ago I noticed that all the asphalt had been pulled up and dirt was being smoothed. It turned out that they were preparing the space for sod and not for a repaving. I was surprised that the parking lots could even be closed let alone discontinued. Of course it wasn’t that people were just going to start other ways to get to school and give up their cars, that would be too good. See, since I was there on a daily basis one of the new, large, and extremely fancy buildings has been finished and the parking for the College of Architecture and the other building have been moved into the underground parking deck below this new structure.

Nonetheless this is an impressive display of taking action to reverse previous development and reclaim space from the auto and return it to the people. Sure there are still fences up while they finish things up but I can’t wait to walk by on the first great spring day and see classes out there having discussions.

Georgia Tech’s Capital Planning & Space Management
Eco Commons Draft Plan


I did not originally want to post about this, even though Lauren passed it along with the message “put it on your blog.” However, in class today while discussing the affect of society/culture on the idea of ‘necessities’ the statement was made that even if we (public health do-gooders ie. World Health Organization) wanted to put a (one) glass of clean water in front of every person on earth, we couldn’t do it. Not even for one day, let along daily. We’re not in a position to ready it, prep it, distribute it; we’re not even closer than some others. So who is the closest to being able to perform such a task? Probably, Coca-Cola, makers of what one professor (the same who made this point) refers to as a candy bar in a bottle.

Interesting, but it says nothing about what I didn’t want to show on here…

Today it came to my attention that Stone Mountain (a nearby rock formation/outdoor park/laser show venue/Confederate Mount Rushmore) is going to be offering a snow-covered winter wonderland to Atlanta locals, complete with real snow. So, during the worst drought on record in Georgia, a snow-making machine will use 38 gallons of water a minute from the local piped water supply. They’ve decided to use the municipal water instead of water from the park’s lake, to ensure snow of blinding white purity. Also, it makes very little (thermal) sense to put such an event in November. Perhaps they expect less rain and a better turn out with slightly warmer weather than in February, but I shake when I try to justify it.

In Vietnam, I attended something similar that was part of a large park. It was housed in a warehouse and it was complete with ice sculptures. They provided coats for people upon entry and gave people an opportunity to throw their first (and probably only) snowball ever. You would exit into the balmy 90 degree heat with the feeling that what you had just experienced was a bit less fun than all the effort was worth.

This morning, after reading an article about the Stone Mountain situation in the local paper I found out that Coca-Cola is putting it on. It appeared that they had already begun snow production and that the exhibit was not meant to open until November. That seems like a lot of water. However, the article was updated at 3:00 today after the park and Coke agreed to halt the snow production and the attraction due to significant criticism.

It seems the most twisted of ironies that a company that would employ such disregard for environmental circumstances for a promotional stunt employs the same poster-endangered species as the climate change activists.

The Article
Stone Mountain

<a href="; target=”_blank”>The Follow-up Article