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The Summer of Wonderful People

Zion and Bryce 2013

At the end of May, Janel and I left for a canyoneering trip to Zion Canyon and Bryce Canyon. We were also planning on seeing several friends, including Anthony, who had moved to Springdale, Utah with his girlfriend Brittany, and the Barlow clan, who were from St. George, Utah, which is nearby. On the way to Zion we stopped at a few stores in Vegas, including REI and Walmart, for a few essentials. Near the REI we spotted this store, which I think nails it:

For dinner we stopped in St. George and tried to eat at the Painted Pony, but they were full. Instead we ate at the Thai restaurant downstairs, which was also quite good. These restaurants were situated in the old area of St. George. Here's a picture of Janel outside the restaurant:

After dinner we jumped back in the car to head toward Springdale to snag a campsite.

The Death of My Car

As we were passing through the town of La Verkin (near Hurricane), all of a sudden my car's engine died and a check engine light came on the dash. I coasted to a parking spot on a side street and waited for awhile before trying to start the car. It wouldn't even attempt to turn over. A car of folks stopped to help and took a look in my engine, deciding that a leaky gasket had allowed oil to seep into the spark plugs and was preventing me from starting the vehicle. Since we couldn't fix it that evening, we called Adinah and Coulton, who were staying with friends that happened to be mechanics. They graciously allowed Janel and I to stay with them that night and then helped us try to fix the car the next day. We replaced the gasket and replaced the coil but alas, neither thing helped. I thanked them for their help and ended up just getting a rental car so that our trip could continue. Later that week we pushed the car to a mechanic who gave us the bad news, basically that the engine was fux0rz3d. I sold the car to the mechanic, which was very sad for me. I felt conflicted. On the one hand, it's a miracle that the car made it this long, but on the other hand, I had started to get the impression that the car would last forever... In the end, I figured it did us a favor by dying in civilization instead of in the middle of the desert. Here is my car in the place where I last saw it:

I hope that it is somehow rejuvinated and finds a new life with a different owner. Anyway, on the second day we went to breakfast with the group we stayed with. Here's a picture of us:

In the group we have Adinah, Coulton, Jenn, Cody, Tristan, Janel, Matt, Angie, and a couple of others. After attempting to fix the car, Anthony comes and picks us up and then lets us use his car to retrieve the rental from the St. George airport (thanks Enterprise!). When we return to Springdale we discover that Brittany has managed to secure the last campsite in the campground for us as well as expand our Subway permit to 8 people so that Angie and Matt can tag along! Waow! We setup camp and get to bed. Early in the morning I scouted the remainder of the campground and found an even better site that was just being vacated. We moved a few things over to claim it and then met up with our group of 8 for our Subway excursion.

The Subway

This was going to be my second time doing the Subway but it was everyone else's first! The hike starts in a field, approaching a strand of trees:

The landscape here lies in stark contrast to the slickrock and canyonlands that come later. Still, there are cliffs looming above the forest:

Eventually you emerge from the forest onto the top of the slickrock portion of the hike:

Much of the time on the hike in you are descending:

But this provides for amazing vistas! Here's our group, minus myself, towards the beginning of the approach:

It's Anthony, Brittany, Angie, Matt, Janel, Adinah, and Coulton! This early section of the hike, in the rim lands, is quite spectacular, and following the cairns keeps your attention. Here's a shot of Anthony and I amidst the beauty:

And here's a shot of the towering white sandstone walls in this area:

A bit further on we reached the start of the beautiful red, wave-like slickrock:

It was around this time that Matt's inner beast came out:

Notice me, faux meditating in the background ;-) Beyond the notch with the memorable hoodoo is the coolest slickrock I've seen anywhere. Here's Adinah surfing the wave:

Here's the group descending from the notch:

Not long after this you get your first glimpse of the slot canyon:

In the sand we found a curious looking and massive moth:

When you first descend, you drop into a side canyon created by a tributary. This canyon is typically dry although there was a three-foot deep pool of water we had to wade across this time. The canyon is pretty open at this point:

Before long you reach the convergence with North Creek, which forms the Subway further down. The terrain remains mostly dry at this point as well, but you start boulder scrambling:

Before long, however, things slot up a bit and fill with water. Here's one of the first corridors where a mandatory swim is necessary:

If you prefer to use climbing skills, it's also possible to avoid the water, but probably not as fun:

Soon enough the walls begin to tower overhead and the light becomes dim. Here's Angie enjoying herself:

There are several small waterfalls through this section of the subway. We brought a short rope to help ourselves down there. Here's a picture of Anthony descending with Matt's help:

And here's another shot of this section from the top:

After this waterfall the water has cut an interesting course in the ground with nooks and small caves on either side:

Another shot of this beautiful area:

For some reason Colten was convinced that he would find the frog princess somewhere on this excursion. He wound up kissing a lot of frogs, but none of them turned into beautiful princesses:

Before we reached the Subway proper there was another relatively dry stretch with really cool rock:

Somehow we didn't get many (any?) pictures inside the subway on this trip, but in case you missed it, this picture was taken by Brian Cornelius on the last trip:

After the subway Adinah snapped this picture of Janel and I:

And then we got this picture of the whole group:

We were all pretty tired at this point so we took a short break as we changed from our wetsuits back into our clothes:

After the subway the hike progresses for four miles down the canyon. At the beginning of this section there are a few cool waterfalls. Here's Janel in Tree pose atop one of them:

And Matt standing at the bottom:

At the end of the 4 mile hike down the canyon is a short but steep section to the rim where there's a parking lot. A few of us went ahead to do the car ferry before the others finished but we ended up realizing that we didn't have the car keys, so we had to wait for the main group anyway :-) By the time we returned to the campsite we were quite pooped.

Birch Hollow

The following day Janel and I set off to do a canyon called Birch Hollow together. It was to be just the two of us. This canyon was on the East side of the main Zion canyon and once again required us to drive up on the rim to a suitable parking area. The map that I had indicated that it wouldn't be too hard to hike from the end of the hike back to our car, so that was our tentative plan. It turned out to be very naive, as you will soon see. Finding the first rappel took some work. The hike in was a bit confusing to say the least. We eventually managed to find the scree descent into the canyon, however. Here's Janel at that spot:

We later learned that our book was outdated and very few people came in this way, instead opting to park further on the road and doing an additional rappel. Before long we managed to descend to the bottom of the gully and reached the first rappel. The scree was very loose and not very fun for Janel:

Until this point we had been completely alone and felt very 'out there'. All of a sudden, however, a group of nine fast-moving people appeared from nowhere. We kindly allowed them to go first since this was going to be Janel's first serious rappel and it was going to take some time. As we were waiting for them to go, another three people showed up! Here's a look at the drop:

As you can see, it's a pretty big rappel, and it is actually free hanging, which is scary, challenging and requires confidence. One of the men in the large group had gotten injured on this rappel in the past and spoke openly about it, which was pretty inconsiderate with Janel right there. After they finished we decided to go next, even though it would mean feeling a bit rushed by the group of three. They were kind, though, and didn't mind us taking our time. We rigged Janel up with an auto-block friction knot and her setup had a lot of friction, which would make it super safe, but also slow and more strenuous to descend. When she reached the lip she got into a very awkward position with her legs above her head and I felt a bit nervous until she made it over the lip. The rest of her descent went smoothly. I was incredibly proud of her for being so brave to attempt the rappel. In the circumstances it was a very scary action to commit to, and she did it! Janel took a couple of pictures of me on the rappel from the bottom:

Free hanging section:

After this there was a bit of a hike to the spot where the canyon 'slotted up':

The fast team had pushed ahead and we felt peaceful moving through the remainder of the canyon. The next rappel was a looooong one, about 100 feet. It required all of our rope to rig, and we still barely reached the bottom. Fortunately it wasn't free hanging and we were able to pull through it smoothly. Here's Janel lowering in:

Of course after the first one, everything felt a lot easier from here on out:

Once I reached the bottom I took this picture looking up:

The next section involved several shorter rappels. Here's Janel relaxing in the sunlight as I setup the next drop:

The next large drop was the first in a series of two that comprised the most spectacular part of the canyon. It was like dropping into a multicolored hole in the earth:

The hole was bordered by a chock-stone that was caught in the canyon. Here's a view of the drop from the bottom:

The second drop hooked around to the right. Here I am getting started on it:

And here's a view of Janel from the top:

After this final rappel we found ourselves near the top of Orderville canyon. I had canyoneered Orderville the previous year with Ivan, Ryan, Brian, etc. but it is a very long canyon and requires a permit we didn't have. Instead, we were going to hike out of Orderville to return to the car. The canyon wasn't very slotted or deep at this point, so it was a pretty casual hike:

Here's another look further on:

And as we exited the canyon, we turned around and snapped this picture:

We followed some pretty obvious trails to exit the canyon and head across an open piece of land with a stream running through it. We found this cool, textured rock formation next to this stream:

Further on, the trail entered a beautiful meadow:

Shortly thereafter it ended at a parking lot. There was a group of people loading up to leave when we arrived. Discovering that we didn't have a vehicle there, they offered us a ride. We gladly accepted, thinking they were saving us a 3-4 mile hike back to our car. As it turned out, they were doing us an unimaginable favor. We were five miles from the road, which was another 3-4 miles from our car. So ultimately they were saving us three hours of hiking that could have totally exhausted us. Even worse, at first we figured I would just go back and retrieve the car to pick up Janel, but this would have backfired terribly since this five mile stretch of road was completely impassable to anything except a capable 4WD vehicle. When they dropped us off we couldn't stop exclaiming how fortunate we had been. At this point, we caught a glimpse of Zion canyon in the distance:

And here's a picture of us, after we finished:

As we drove back to the campsite we couldn't get over how beautiful the sky was. We pulled over to take this picture of a field by the roadside:

Speaking of our campsite, it was truly one of the best in the Watchman campground. We were right beside the stream and had incredible views of the Watchman formation. Here it is at sunset:

And this is the following morning, well after sunrise:

As it turned out, Adinah and Coulton had their flight out of St. George the evening after Birch Hollow, so we met up with them after grabbing pizza and said goodbyes. This left us in the company of Anthony and Brittany. They agreed to join us for Mystery Canyon the next day and we decided to take a rest day today. I used the rest day to sort out the remaining issues with the car. As it turned out to be too costly to repair, I agreed to sell it to the mechanic for enough money to get a one-way rental from enterprise back to Idyllwild. So sad! We returned to Springdale in time to do a shuttle tour of the park. This was Janel's first time into the bowels of Zion Canyon, but even for me the scale of everything was so spectacular. We caught a picture of people on Moonlight Buttress out of the top of the bus:

After the tour I picked up Anthony and the two of us climbed a two-pitch route called Ashtar Command (5.9)We finished as it was getting dark and had an amazing time. The route was noticeably less difficult for me this time. After we finished I returned to the campsite for burritos and sleep.

Mystery Canyon

The next day, Janel, Anthony and I went for a descent of Mystery Canyon. Brittany had decided against coming at the last minute but agreed to join us at our campsite that evening. We had a few blunders in the morning which caused us to have a late start but we managed to begin hiking at around noon. It only took about 45 minutes to reach the head of the canyon and the start of the 'death gully' as it's called. Here's the view before we entered the scree:

Here we are about halfway down:

Janel was having a lot of pain in her knees but she nonetheless managed to complete the descent. Here's the iconic waterstreak that indicates that you are done with the horrific scree scramble:

The next section of descent is pretty easy, and is characterized by several small rappels, many of which are downclimbable depending on one's ability. Here's Anthony rappeling on one of these:

Not long after this, the canyon slots up and there are a series of beautiful dry rappels as the canyon turns left:

The slot is so deep that not very much light makes it in. Here's Janel and Anthony in this section:

The sunlight playing off the various wavy walls of the canyon creates a surreal effect:

Here's another couple example shots of this:

Here I am on the final rappel of this section:

After this drop, the canyon opens again and you continue descending:

Here's a tight cleft with a chockstone in it:

At some point along here there's a beautiful splitter crack that seems perfect. Too bad we didn't have our climbing gear!

Around another corner you reach a cool, humid area with lots of lush foliage:

Nearby is a dry lake bed which seasonally fills up with water. The lake was created by recent rock fall where an entire cliffside fell into a massive heap of rubble, blocking the escape of water and creating the lake. Here is the beautiful scar indicating where the rock fell from:

As you can see, a ton of rock fell. Here's Anthony and Janel hiking down the slope of the rockfall:

As you can see, it completely fills the canyon up to a height of a couple hundred feet. After descending the scree you enter the final mammoth slot which marks the place where Mystery joins up with the Narrows. This is the location of two of the most memorable rappels I have ever done. Here is Janel just before she discovers the first of these two rappels:

Anthony went first:

Here he is scoping the bottom of the rappel from the boulder halfway down:

Avoiding the pool of water at the bottom is an interesting challenge, but with Anthony's help we managed to only get slightly wet. Here he is at this final part of the drop:

Janel gathered her courage for the 150 foot descent and went next:

Miraculously, this rappel isn't even the best one in Mystery Canyon. The final rappel, into the Narrows, takes the cake. Here is Janel upon discovering this amazing place:

Of course the people down below didn't know what to make of us, sitting 130 feet up the side of the canyon they were hiking down. It must seem incredible to witness other humans descending from these side canyons, with their waterfalls. Again Anthony went first:

Despite my warning about the slipperiness of the rock, Anthony bit it in fastastic display about 15 feet into the rappel. It was hilarious and I wish I had caught it on video. Of course he was unscathed and completed the rest of the rappel masterfully:

Janel went next and only had one small slip on her way down. When she and I had both finished, pulling the rope was a bit sad since it marked the end of my favorite canyon. Still, we enjoyed walking down the Narrows. After we returned to Anthony's house we prepared some massive veggie kebobs for roasing on the fire at the campsite:

They didn't turn out quite as well as expected, but given how tired we were, they tasted great nonetheless. We slept great that night and were able to sleep in a bit since the next day was Bryce Canyon, and we weren't going to do any major hikes.

Bryce Canyon

Anthony and Brittany joined us for Bryce Canyon as well. The drive out there is about 90 minutes from Zion. On the way, Anthony showed us his credit card, sporting a very unique signature:

Apparently he draws this flying whale every time he makes a purchase, haha. Anyway, when you pull up in the parking lot for Bryce, you're a bit mystified as to what you're going to see since the drive isn't particularly scenic and the landscape doesn't indicate that there's a wildly beautiful canyon nearby. Nonetheless, the moment you crest the rim, only 100 feet or so from where you're parked, you're greeted with this view:

Since we didn't have a ton of time, but we wanted to get a closer view of the hoodoos, we decided to do the Queen Garden Loop, which is a two or three mile jaunt down into the canyon. Here's the view as we descended:

The rock has a fantastic, pastel color that can vary quite significantly in a small space. For example, this picture has yellow to orange to red to purple hues in it:

Before finishing the Queen Garden loop, my climbing instincts took over and I had to locate a chossy boulder to conquer. The 'rock' in Bryce is really a hardened mud, and it's certainly not safe for climbing as a general rule. Nonetheless I found a relatively short and fun problem that suited my needs:

This picture probably doesn't need an explanation:

After the boulder we found a small side-canyon with two natural arches in it. Janel figured, why not make it three?

Just past this side canyon, we decided to hike up the Navajo Trail to exit the main canyon. The trail involves some man-made switchbacks up a beautiful natural amphitheatre:

Once we finished the hike we decided to drive further into Bryce. I'd never gone past the main canyon so each of these sights were new to me. At the first pullout we found a huge arch:

And further on we got sweeping views of the surroundings, with spires of rock jutting out of the forest and distant cliffs all within view:

We did one final, short loop hike called the Ponderosa Loop at the end of the road. The entire trail provided lookouts over the valleys and canyons. Here's a bench towards the start:

And here's Anthony at a lookout toward the end:

Having the opportunity to check out this trail and the pullouts beyond the main canyon area was beneficial to me since it extended the experience beyond what I had seen in my first visit to Bryce. In fact, as much as I love the scenery there I feel that my two visits are probably enough for a long while. As beautiful as it is, Bryce is not as easy to interact with since the rock is so fragile and the size of the canyon is so much smaller than Zion. I feel compelled to return to Zion year after year, but Bryce not so much. Anyway, when we returned from Bryce, Janel and I grabbed delicious veggie burgers at a restuarant called Oscars in Springdale and then returned to our campsite.

Angel's Landing

Keeping with the theme of repeat experiences, Janel and I had to hike Angel's Landing before we could leave Zion. We awoke around 10am and started on the trail at 11 or so after preparing a pack with victuals and riding the Zion bus to the Grotto stop. The hike ended up feeling pretty casual since by this point we were in pretty good shape. Since it was a weekend there was a huge number of people on the hike, far more than when I had done it before with Jared and Rafaela. Amazingly, the crowds did not get in our way at all, and we were really able to enjoy the experience. Here's Janel early on the hike where the trail is cut into the cliffside:

And of course, Walter's Wiggles further on:

And here's the iconic shot of the ridge leading up to Angel's Landing:

If you look closely you can see that it's dotted with people. And if that's not convincing enough, here's a shot of the rock fin from above:

When we got to the top we took a break for lunch and then asked someone to take a photo of us looking down-canyon. Here it is:

And here's a photo I shot looking up-canyon toward the Narrows:

And here's a shot of Big Bend (of the Virgin River) and the 'Organ' formation:

On our way down from Angel's Landing Janel's spider-alerts went off and we found the most massive black widow we'd ever seen:

Nasty! After our hike we decided that the most perfect way to finish the day, and the overall trip, would be to float the Virgin River! So, we took the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava and inflated our inner tubes and plunked down into the cool refreshing water. As we floated down the river we saw onlookers from the buses looking enviously our way. While we did run into shallow sections here and there the float was overall incredibly relaxing and the scenery unparalleled. We found a few deeper spots here and there for short swims as well. About 3/4 of the way into the float my inner-tube hit a sharp rock and was ripped. Luckily I didn't have far to walk to get to the Grotto where we stopped our float. If you ever go to Zion, we highly recommend trying this. It's an easy way of getting away from the crowds and you will feel like there's no other way to experience all of the beauty all at once :-) Later that night we grabbed more veggie burgers and spent some time looking at art at a gallery in Springdale. Then we kidnapped Anthony and brought him back to our campsite for some good fireside conversation. The next day we went into La Verkin to check on my car, and, realizing it was unsalvageable, I sold it to the mechanic. We then took the rental car to the airport and they allowed us to keep the same car for our one-way rental back to Idyllwild. The drive was pretty uneventful but I was tired so it felt really long. We then did a short caravan to Palm Springs to return the auto before crashing that night.

More Land, Szelengowicz's, San Jacinto and Finishing the Rainbow

One amazing thing that we discovered upon our return from Zion was a note on the door offering us the first right of refusal for purchasing the vacant lot next door. As you can imagine, I was very excited about the possibility of increasing our land and preventing any development in the direction of our view! After a 3-day Vipassana course and a short business trip to Sacramento to kick off a new development project with a team called the RDD team, I returned to Palm Springs to sign a purchase agreement for the land! Within a week of returning from Zion I had magically doubled my real-estate :-) After this went down, Ivan and his Father Michele and his Father's partner Ingrid arrived for a short visit. In spite of his dad being a bit sick and there being a significant language barrier, the five of us succeeded in having a great time all together. Here's a picture of them enjoying the sun on our deck:

After they left, Janel and I decided to hike up Mt. San Jacinto, the resident 11,000 foot peak here in Idyllwild. However, we decided to do it a special way. We started our hike around 4pm and we brought sleeping gear with us, but not a tent. Our intention was to stay at the Summit Hut and catch both the sunset and the sunrise before hiking down the next day. The hike started pretty uneventfully. We were in pretty good shape from Zion and made quick progress up the Devil's Slide trail. Once we reached Saddle Junction we took a left and joined up with the Pacific Crest Trail. The views from here were amazing, and I was blown away by how much steep rock exists on the backside of Tahquitz Peak across the way:

I wonder how many people have scouted those jagged spires and gullies for climbs. Probably not very many since they're quite out of the way. Here's a closer look:

And here's the best view, from higher up:

I couldn't believe it, but there was clearly much more rock than one would think. Tahquitz (the right-most outcropping) was just the beginning, and here were several ridges beyond it, although the rock quality looks worse. Higher up the trail I snapped this picture of a dead tree that, like many, appear as sentinels on these mountains:

Here's another tree that I thought looked really cool:

Here's a shot of the slopes above us as we transitioned to the more horizontal part of the trail:

As always, these slopes look incredibly inviting to me. The trail continued through several changes in landscape with each transition influenced in part by water. There are several springs on this side of San Jacinto and each of them gives birth to fields of unique plants. Here's one example:

And here's another:

We also passed through alpine meadows, like this one:

And here's one of the springs:

We arrived at the top with enough time before sunset to get our sleeping spaces setup in the hut:

For some reason I didn't take any pictures of the inside of the hut. Anyway, once we had everything setup, we snagged a few sleeping bags and pillows and made a nest at the summit to watch the sunset. Unfortunately there weren't any clouds in the sky, but it was still a beautiful thing to experience:

Unfortunately I didn't snap any pictures of sunrise. We got up at around 5am to watch it then went back to sleep until around 8am at which point some early morning hikers knocked on our door. Imagine how surprised they were when they discovered people were sleeping inside :-) We figured it was a good time to get up and we started our descent. I snapped a few pictures on the way down since the light had changed quite a bit:

Looking down towards Palm Springs:

Eastern slopes:

Trail sign at 9700 feet:

Tree straddling a rock:

Santa Rosa Mountain in the distance:

Finally, Tahquitz from the Devil's Slide trail:

We finished the hike around noon or 1pm, with plenty of time remaining in the day. I felt like this was a great way to experience Mt. San Jacinto, breaking the hike up into two days and allowing for the enjoyable experiences of sunset, sunrise, and sleeping in a new place.

A few days after the Tahquitz hike, Ivan returned and we set about finishing the Rainbow. It ended up taking about three or four more partial days of work, but eventually, on June 23rd and 24th, we were able to set routes! Here's what it looked like fully assembled (with the beautiful backing board courtesy of Janel, and the roof):

And here's the fully completed rainbow, with the routes set:

I was so happy to have it completed, and it truly came out better than I ever expected. It is such a joy to put so much effort into something, persisting with a strong sense of quality through all of the difficulties, and to bring it to completion and see the final result. I feel this is my greatest artistic achievement to date, and it fills me with a joy and a desire to create more!

Here, Ivan and Janel are testing holds:

I had a chance to climb on it for only a week or so before we were to leave for Portland, so I made the most use of it that I could! Here I am trying out the orange finger crack:

I think that this will serve as the perfect crack climbing training wall, and I hope to translate what I learn on the Rainbow to my real rock experiences!

Trip to Portland

Not long after finishing the Rainbow, Janel and I left to spend the summer in Portland. Ivan was going to stay in Idyllwild to look after things while we were away. On our way North, I would be driving by motorcycle while Janel took her car. We planned to do the trip in four days, stopping in Tahoe for a couple nights of camping, and then near Ashland, OR. The first day's ride started sort of meh but quickly got better for me on the bike. We descended from the mountain where we live and took the 15 up to the 395 through Victorville and Adelante, two of the most depressing places I've been. The road then continues up the East side of the Sierras which are beautiful. It passes through Independence, Big Pine and Bishop before gaining elevation and passing Mammoth Lakes. You soon pass into Nevada before veering off to the West and ascending a steep grade into the Tahoe Basin. I hit some rain as I neared Tahoe which made things interesting on the mountain roads. Fortunately my tires were pretty new and I had good traction. We arrived in Tahoe in the early evening and made our way to Fallen Leaf Campground, which is a nice little spot next to Fallen Leaf Lake, an unspoiled lake in the same basin as the much larger lake Tahoe. On the second day we made our way over to Fallen Leaf to check it out. It is a truly beautiful spot:

The water was incredibly clear and the bottom of the lake near the shore was completely covered with multicolored stones. I'd never seen such variety in rocks before. Here's a couple pictures:

Janel and I spent a couple hours just sorting through the stones and we ended up taking a handful with us. We'll end up with a rock tumbler before you know it ;-) We spent a good amount of time on the shore of the lake, swimming and floating in our inner tubes. At one point we found a large insect had made his way over to our spot:

This caterpillar is 5 or 6 inches long, far larger than any I'd seen before. I guess in the Sierras, everything is huge! On the second day in Tahoe in the late afternoon we took the motorcycle to a climbing spot called Lover's Leap, which is an amazing cliffband famous for its horizontal dykes. Here's a picture of the cliff I found online:

Janel and I originally planned to do a long, classic multi-pitch route called Corrugation Corner (5.7+) but the vibe wasn't right so we decided to climb a shorter route on the lower buttress (at the bottom-right of the photo). When we arrived there was already a party on each of the classics in that area so while we were waiting for them to finish I hopped on a route that I didn't really know the grade of. It ended up being quite an awful climb. It was pretty run-out and it appeared that either holds were broken and missing or the sequences were way too hard or cryptic for me. I got pretty psyched out and ended up pulling on my draws to make forward progress a couple of times. I stopped at the sixth bolt where there was a committing move that would have made a bad fall and instead lowered to the ground, the first time that I'd ever bailed on a sport route without having someone to clean up after me. After this experience we managed to get on a route called The Groove (5.8) which looked pretty fun. Here's a look up from the bottom (photo from MP.com):

The climbing turned out to be a bit awkward, with lots of mantles that made it hard to get into a rhythm. Janel especially struggled since mantles are strenuous and often height dependant. The second pitch was more enjoyable, runout slab climbing with decent holds. Here's a picture of Janel coming up the second pitch:

In the end, it certainly wasn't the best day of climbing, but I really did like the area and hope to come back to climb here more, and possibly stay at the campground which is situated, conveniently, at the base of the cliff. The following day Janel and I jumped back on or in our respective vehicles and drove North. It turned out to be a hot day and I was somewhat uncomfortable on the bike. Fortunately, the scenery was so gorgeous (I went through Lassen and Shasta parks) that I was able to keep my mind on the beauty. I arrived at Lake Hyatt (in the mountains near Ashland, OR) a few minutes after Janel. Her friend Natalie had secured us a campsite there. We went on a nice walk and the following morning hiked a short way on the Pacific Crest Trail before returning to Ashland for lunch and coffee. We parted ways and drove the final four hours to Portland, finally ending at Janel's parents place in Sherwood where we ate dinner and passed out, exhausted.

Second Service

A couple days after we returned to Portland, Janel and I left for Onalaska, Washington to serve our second Vipassana course. We had both served a 10-day course over Janel's birthday the previous year in April, and this would be our second service, although we were only staying for 5 or so days. The center in Onalaska, called Dhamma Kunja, is one of the oldest in America and was not originally designed for Vipassana. In fact, the house with the dining areas, kitchen and server's quarters had been repeatedly expanded to accomodate the growing center. The kitchen was much more intimate than the Southern California center where we had served before. We quickly learned the ropes, however, and Janel and I were off to a quick start. The roles were not as well organized here and people just sort of gravitated into their more comfortable positions. Despite my original disdain for washing pots and pans, this was one of the heavier lifting stations and I took to it because I felt very useful there. I also helped with some prep work, but unlike last time, I was not a cook (or anything close). The folks that we served with were very different as well. Instead of our multi-ethnic crew at Veddana (SCVC), here everyone was white. The personalities were different as well. I found it harder to connect with the men that I served with and there seemed to be a bit more dischord on the women's side than before. There were a couple of overwhelming personalities, one dominating female and one uber-meek male that were both a challenge for me to gel with. When serving, this is as much a part of the practice as the meditation. I felt I did pretty well. I only reacted, internally, a few times to other people and never outwardly or confrontationally. My meditation got off to a slow start as usual and I made the realization that my pace of adjusting to the practice necessitates longer courses, and have informally decided to give up 3-day courses for now. Nevertheless, by the fourth and fifth day I was in a pretty good place. The ATs at this course were nice but the evening meetings were a bit painful at times due to the drama being brought up by the other servers. When the fifth day rolled around I was ready to depart, but not hasty. Janel was going to stay for two more days. Before she left, several of the women servers had grown to really love her and I was glad she had connected with the others.

After leaving Vipassana I started to readjust to a Portland way of living. I was still in Vancouver now in Drew's old room with Janel. It was nice to have the extra space. Adam was still there and he and I managed to connect pretty well on my first night back from the course. We also have a new roommate in my old room downstairs. His name is Orlando (or OB) and he is a really cool, creative Navajo guy. The very first morning in Vancouver I became acutely aware of how much more noise there is in the city than in Idyllwild. The leaf blowers and airplanes flying overhead were very irritating and it was clear I had been spoiled!

Katie in Portland

The following week my sister Katie came to visit Portland. She had succeeded in securing a spot in a Dietetics Internship at OHSU and was coming out to look for an apartment and get a feel for the city. On her first day in town we managed to have a number of 'Portland' experiences. We drove through the NE area, ate ethiopian food, and went to Mississippi studios for a free show that turned out to be really good. Before the show started we stared at the curious fishes in this aquarium for awhile:

The next day we went into the Gorge to check out Multnomah falls and go for a short hike to another falls. Here's a picture of Katie and I at Multnomah:

And here's me discovering the other cascade (which I forgot to name):

We discovered an overgrown path to the top of the second falls that hadn't seen much attention for years. It was really neat to discover it and explore before returning to Portland. After the hike I drove Katie to a couple of really good looking houses and between them we grabbed ice cream (anise and candied fennel at Ruby Jewel's Scoops was the best ice cream ever!). Her search was looking pretty optimistic after all! We grabbed a couple of beers at Cascade Barrel House (which Katie seemed to really like) before hitting the hot tub in Vancouver that evening. The next day was tea shops, Kombucha, some urban parks and the Hawthorne street area. On Saturday Janel and I left for the Oregon Country Fair near Eugene, OR. I had heard many things about this quirky festival and was very excited to finally be checking it out. Katie decided to stay in Portland so she could continue her apartment hunt but Janel's friend Rena joined us. When we arrived at the fair we quickly changed into our costumes and made our way to the entrance. Here's the three of us:

On our way in we found home-made tibetaneque prayer dillies that I found clever (and reproducible):

The fair was just getting started that day and the vibe was very chill and creative. It was actually delightful to be there and there were so many whimsical things around, such as the Buddha Beaver:

The costumes were really great and the artistry was all over. It reminded me of the renaissance festival in Sterling, NY that I went to as a kid, although it ended up getting a bit more crowded and there were fewer organized events. In fact, I felt these last two things were its biggest weaknesses. It had even better energy, however, and there was blurrier line between the public and the folks putting on the fair, which I really liked. Here are a few pictures which convey the spirit of the event:

The most amazing part of the day wasn't actually the fair itself, but a semi-reunion that occurred there. As it turned out, two of Janel's three college housemates (the other being Natali) were at the fair that day. Sabina was a staff member and Lele was visiting from out of town. I had never met either of them before and they turned out to be just as awesome as Natali. I was happy to have the opportunity to chat and connect with both of them over the course of the day. I also had a chance to get to know Jessie, Sabina's husband, and Nate, who is Lele's. I couldn't have imagined what Janel's college house would have been like with four such impressive women living there. It was a delight to spend the day with the group of them, and we ended up getting herded out of the fair at closing time. Just before leaving, I ran into Forrest, who I had originally met at SOAK, and run into before Burning Man last year. This was the third time I'd seen him at a festival and he radiated loving energy as always. I got his information this time as well as hugs full of bliss. Such an incredible spirit! This day sets the tone for the entire Summer (and year) in that the focus was to be on beautiful people. It's so easy to be insular and focus on our own journey and goals, but looking outside of ourselves from time to time we realize that we're attracting the company of other wonderful souls as well! By the end of the day all of these awesome encounters had left me completely exhausted:


After returning to Portland, Katie and I continued the search for a good place. We visited a house, painted yellow, on Multnomah St in a great location. The owner was a burner and seemed really nice. The house itself was well built and well kept. Perhaps the most interesting thing about it was that there was an authentic speakeasy in the basement from Prohibition. I kid you not:

It seemed like a really good fit for Katie and in the end she decided to go for it. The owner, David, accepted Katie almost immediately and things were off to a great start! I was really happy that Katie found a place that would work so well. The other roommate who would live with her was named Rich and they got along great!

A Fire at Home

The day after Katie left Portland I had to fly to Sacramento for business. The Mountain Center fire which had been burning for a few days but not threatening Idyllwild took a sudden turn when the winds changed and they decided to evacuate Idyllwild. I was at a climbing gym in Rancho Cordova when Ivan called me with the news. He asked me what I wanted him to save and all I could think of was my journals and my blue shoebox of mementos. It was a weird call to receive. I wasn't particularly scared or worried. I know in my heart that if a catastrophe hits and I lose the house and the possessions within, I will simply adjust my life accordingly. It wouldn't be easy, but it wouldn't be the end, and there's no reason to get upset about it in advance. Anyway, Ivan texted me a photo of the fire as seen from our deck:

And here's a photo of the fire from the interwebs:

SOAK 2013

So as a fire burned back at home Janel and I departed for SOAK 2013, losing our cell-phone reception on the way, we knew that once the festival was over we would learn whether our town had been scorched or not. We decided to let go of the feelings around it so that we could experience the festival openly. It actually wasn't very hard. Anything Burning Man-related has a way of pulling you into the present moment and releasing your fears that are rooted in the past or the future. Once again we camped with Shangri-La, the beloved camp that occupies the most beautiful spot at SOAK and is home for many of the most beautiful people as well. Here's a picture of the Shangri-La sign that our friend Jacob made:

And here's the two principal founders of the camp, Jah and Brian, in their animal outfits:

Janel and I helped setup the lights in the Kitchen Bhavan, a new addition to the camp this year that provided a huge and very well-stocked space for all kitchen and food-related needs. On the first day we simply settled in and reconnected with friends. In the evening we strolled around and explored all of the new spaces. One camp had populated a distant hill in the forest that was a real pleasure to walk to. It was so well lit up that you could see and hear it for a long ways before you got there. They were playing the movie Triplets of Belleville silently on their projector screen and had a pretty awesome DJ playing as well. Despite the awesome environment I felt myself struggling for the first couple days of the festival energy-wise. For some reason I could not keep up with Janel and this made it pretty hard on me. Fortunately on the third evening I had a breakthrough experience during the burn. That final evening the music at the main stage is incredible and Janel and I are able to really connect with each other and with many of the others around us. We easily make it to dawn and go to bed feeling thoroughly burned and satisfied! On the final day we pack up and say our goodbyes to everyone. We leave around noon and when we get our cell reception back we quickly learn that Idyllwild was spared by two full days of torrential rain! Yay! We get back to Vancouver and pass out.

Construction for Present and Positive (the camp)

So this year, in 2013, Present and Positive is going to become a Burning Man camp! Part of becoming a legitimate camp involves building spaces that are enjoyable not just for your campmates, but also for other burners who might stop in. I decided to work on two geodesic domes, one 25' diameter and one 15' diameter, a couple picnic tables, a Playa Map Trading Post, as well as a few yurts for sleeping in. Building the domes would involve lots of new experiences, and new tools. Fortunately we had a really good online tutorial and we were able to get started pretty quickly. We turned the garage in our condo into a workshop. Here is Janel working on squishing the ends of conduit pipe with a hydraulic press:

We had devised an ingenious tactic of squishing the conduit with a piece of solid metal pressed by the press-rod:

The conduit was cut to the correct lengths by a jig that I assembled with a 2x4 and a jigsaw:

This was actually not a terribly reliable method and before long we replaced it with a proper conduit-cutter. The entire dome building process basically looked like this:
    1. Cut Conduit to Correct Length
    2. Squish Conduit Ends
    3. Drill 3/8" hole in conduit ~3/4" from the end
    4. Deburr Conduit with Dremel Tool
    5. Bend Conduit to 10 or 12 degree Angle
    6. Spray Rustoleum on Conduit Ends (color code based on lengths)

We build the 25 foot dome first and set it up in the field near the condo with Jared's help:

It went together surprisingly smoothly. After the 25' dome was complete we created the 15' dome as well, which went much more quickly with the experience we had:

The next two items that we built were the picnic tables and Playa Map Trading Post. We ended up finding kits for the tables at Home Depot for a very reasonable price, so we jumped on them. With Janel's dad's help, we stained the wood and constructed the Playa Map Trading Post from scrap materials we found at a recycled lumber yard:

Everything was assembled out in front of Janel's parents house in Sherwood. In addition to these items, we also picked up a stack of about 50 burlap coffee bean sacks at the scrap store. We planned to use these as flooring in the yurts:

The last project that we did was construct three stretch six-foot tall hexayurts. One would be for Janel and I, another for Jared, and a third for Alex and Jupiter. The design and method for these was also found online:

The design we used is in the top-right corner of this picture. The construction mainly involves using rigid insulation panels and 6" bidirectional filament tape. Both things I've never used before. The design is brilliant and allows you to do 80 percent of the work in advance of the burn, then fold the insulation pieces up like an accordian. When you arrive on the playa, the pieces can be folded back out, the roof popped up, and some final taping performed to complete the structures. Here's a picture of Janel and Jared working on finishing one of the yurts:

We worked very late at night on the days just before the burn to complete things like the doors. In the end though, everything was incredibly successful and we felt like we had completed a major achievement this year!

Summer Fun

We spent most of our time in the month before the Burn preparing our camp, but we still found time for lots of other fun activities on the side. On one day, Mike Royer and I completed several amazing climbs at Beacon Rock, including Blownout (5.10b) which was a stellar 3-pitch route. Here's a look from the bottom:

We also did a 10c linkup that I had done before with Scott Eagan. This time I sent the crux pitch on lead with no falls! The next day Janel's friend and college roommate Natali Shallcross arrived and we floated the Sandy river with Janel's brother Griffin, Janel, myself, Natali, Rena, Saph and Romi (left to right in the picture):

This was taken at an Indian restaurant that we went to after the float. I believe Anthony joined us that day as well, but it looks like he bailed before the delicious food. Idiot.

Three Days Across the Country

So as I mentioned before, my sister Katie was moving to Portland. Since she wanted to have her car out here for the next year, she decided to drive from Rochester, and I decided to join her. I'd never driven across the country before, so I figured this would be a great opportunity. I had a wedding that I wanted to attend on the third day, so we decided to try to make it in two and a half days, and we chose a route with only a few detours for sightseeing. I knew it was going to be a bit intense, but I'm pretty good at staying positive and driving long hours :-) Here is the route we had planned:

It included a detour through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons as well as a few more scenic corridors elsewhere in the west. We left at around 5am on the first day from Rochester. On the I-90 between Rochester and Buffalo I had an encounter with a crazy Hyundai driver who was acting impressively erratically. Fortunately there was no incident. It was raining a bit but the rain let up after we got into Pennsylvania. The drive from here to Chicago was pretty fast and boring as usual. At Chicago we got off of the I-90 and headed straight West toward Iowa. Of course this stretch was even more boring than before, but Katie and I made the best of it with good music. I'd never crossed the Mississippi River in a car before, and we did so at around 3:50pm:

Later that day as it got dark we turned northward from Omaha toward Sioux Falls, SD. The sunset was pretty beautiful:

We stayed at a Marriott in Sioux Falls. We arrived around 11pm and left at 7am, having gained an hour from going West so we were able to get a full night's sleep. The next day we struck out across South Dakota, again not very inspiring landscape. The size of the vehicles was absolutely wild. There were many many RV's and trailers, including behemoths like this one:

As we got further into South Dakota the most intense storm fronts appeared over our head:

Driving directly into these was pretty wild. As soon as we penetrated the front, an absolute wall of water came down and blinded us and filled the road with water. Because we were so loaded down we were actually able to travel faster than most other cars in the deluge, but we still had to keep it under 30mpg for ten minutes or so in the worst of it. Once we got into Wyoming the weather cleared and the scenery became a bit more pleasant. We were clearly gaining some elevation, and there were nice rocky outcroppings every so often:

In Sheridan we left the I-90 for a state highway which was a lot more scenic. It took us through the Bighorn National Forest toward a small town named Greybull. After we crested the small range we followed a river that had carved a canyon for itself. We took a rare stop to view a waterfall and gorge beside the highway:

Not long after this we passed through Greybull and then Cody before entering Yellowstone National Park. I'd never been to Yellowstone before and although I knew that we were going to be driving through the less scenic parts, I was still looking forward to this part of the trip, as well as the Grand Tetons further South. We gained quite a bit of elevation before entering Yellowstone and then we rounded the lake and headed South toward the Tetons. We were really blown away by the jagged peaks of the tetons, rising above the lakes and meadows below. We didn't capture any good pictures of them, but here's a good one from the interwebs:

After passing through the Grand Tetons National Park we arrived in Jackson, WY where we picked up some pizza to go. We then crossed the mountains to Idaho and drove late into the night, arriving in Boise at around 1:30am, exhausted. We woke the next morning at 8:30 and grabbed breakfast before heading on. We stopped at a Dairy Queen in the Dalles but otherwise made a beline for Portland, arriving at 2:15pm after having driven for a grand total of 2,930 miles in 40.5 hours over two and a half days! Katie drops me off in Vancouver and I take my motorcycle to the service at Rocky Butte, still feeling a bit incredulous that two days prior I woke up on the East Coast. The wedding was between my dear friends Ellen and Cory Miles. Here's a picture of them mid-service:

After the wedding we all went to a waterfront park in Vancouver for the reception, which was a blast! We played soccer and drank blackberry wine that Cory had made. Yum!

More Summer Fun

The day after the wedding I went to Sacred Circle ecstatic dance, which is always an amazing experience. Afterward I joined up with Mike, Aaron and Ellen and we went climbing at Carver, where I'd never climbed before. The forest underneath the carver cliff is very like a rainforest or jungle, and the energy is really amazing:

There are several boulders tucked into the moss and only rigorous annual cleaning keeps them free of it. The cliff further up is also involved in a perennial battle with the elements. There are several amazing routes, however, and they are difficult for the grade:

The bouldering is phenomenal and unique, and the energy that day with Aaron and the others was really peaceful. I surprised myself by sending a V4. Here's a picture I found of someone on a boulder there:

A few days after the trip to Carver Janel and I left on a longer climbing-related trip to Squamish, BC, picking Rafaela up in Vancouver on the way. Before arriving in Squamish we once again stopped at Shannon Falls. Here's Raf and Janel observing the beautiful cascade:

We managed to share a campsite at the base of the Chief with another person and climbed a couple of fun routes at the base of the chief that day, including the first pitch of Rutabaga (5.9) and the classic Arrowroot (5.10b):

After the climbing we headed over to the Howe Sound Brewing Co, arriving just before they closed and thankfully getting some veggie burgers and brew :-) The next morning Raf and I were going to attempt to climb Angel's Crest but unfortunately the car is stuck in the camping parking lot. We decide not to attempt the route and spend the day with Janel instead. We climbed a handful of routes all together in the Smoke Bluffs area, including Phlemish Dance, Mosquito, Cold Comfort and a random 10b near the former routes. Here's a picture of the Mosquito to Phlemish Dance linkup (both 5.8):

After climbing we head to Alice Lake where we go swimming, which is a lot of fun. We then continue up the See to Sky highway to Whistler, where Janel has never been before, and I haven't been in Summer:

There was a mountain biking festival going on and plenty to look at. We ended up getting dinner at a nice pizza place before heading back down the highway and finding lots of beautiful vistas. That night we slept early in preparation for another big day. In the early morning I took Janel to a bus station in Vancouver where she would be riding to Seattle to visit her sister. I then returned to Squamish and woke Rafaela. That day we were going to climb a route called Snake (5.9) up the Apron of the Chief, then continue on Dessert Dike (5.10a) to Memorial Crack (5.9) to The Squamish Butt Face (5.9) which would put us on the very top of the Chief! It would total about 16 pitches of climbing and I was planning to lead all of them. We started up the trail at 7am to the base of Snake, and started climbing. The first few pitches weren't too hard but they were a bit run-out and wandery in places. Pitches 3 and 4 were stellar 5.9 liebacking and I linked the two crux pitches into one super pitch. The end of the crux involved a tenuous traverse where Raf actually took a good swinging fall. After finishing Snake we worked our way left on a ledge system to the start of Dessert Dike. This face climb was a bit run-out but was actually my favorite climbing of the day, involving cool movement following a quartz dike. After this we headed left again to the start of the Memorial Crack where two ladies were climbing so we had some time to kill. Raf took a picture of me discovering Squamish:

I also snapped a panorama at this point:

As you can see, the weather was a bit threatening that day and we did get a few drops of rain here and there. Memorial Crack was an exciting and sustained pitch that led to a flat area where we had to walk for a few hundred feet through some brush and trees to the start of the Squamish Buttress. The route at this point wandered quite a bit which kept it from being classic in my opinion. However, there were several challenging sections that kept things interesting. I snapped a picture of the view near the middle of the buttress:

Before long we had completed the entire route and it was only 3:15 in the afternoon! As it turned out we had completed the route in only 8 hours and 15 minutes, which I think was pretty good. We had someone take a picture of us at the moment we topped out:

I was pretty knackered! After climbing we got some food at Howe Sound again but I ended up developing stomach pains and needed to go to sleep early. The next day Raf and I spend some quality time together before I leave Vancouver for Seattle, where I pick up Janel before returning home to Portland.

Burning Man 2013

Over the next week Janel and I were singlepointedly working on getting prepared for Burning Man. We managed to get everything ready just in time, and the day before we left, Jared and I drove to U-Haul and picked up a massive 12x6x6 trailer to pack. We completely filled it, despite being very efficient with the packing. Here we are just getting started:

Here's a picture of Janel working on the computer in the garage with all of the yurts on the right hand side:

Just before we left Portland our close friends Saph and Romi came over to say goodbye. Saph had be working on a piece of jewelry for me for a few weeks and had miraculously finished it in time for Burning Man. When he presented it to me I didn't know what to say, I didn't quite feel like I had earned a piece of art so beautiful:


Janel also received a piece from Saph, although it wasn't ready until after the burn, I'll show you the picture of it here, because it is so fantastic:

This is just a close-up of the beautiful fairy opal that is the focus of Janel's piece. This effect was created by taking the photograph with light coming through the Opal from a certain angle! The morning after I received the amulet we left early and Jared's car impressively managed the 3000lb load all the way to the burn! We located our spot at the intersection of 2:30 and A and couldn't believe our fortune! A corner lot in such an amazing spot. It was unreal! We spent the first day putting up the kitchen area and the three yurts. Putting the doors in took some time. Being there early was a really wonderful experience, especially since we didn't have to wait! The next day Colin's car rolled up with six of our campmates! Then the building got started for real. Here's our group putting up one of the larger yurts:

Setting the entire camp up took several days. We had six yurts, two domes, the kitchen area, and bikes to outfit, etc. When complete, we were very pleased! Here's a picture of the entrance to camp:

After the camp was setup, we held a very nice camp meeting to kick off the burn. There was such good energy all around. We quickly discovered that everything at Burning Man had grown in scale significantly this year. Many other camps had gone all out and it was amazing to see. But, keeping true to my tradition of not describing Burning Man on this site, I'll just say that for me this year was once again very different than previous years. The temple and man were both incredible, with the temple housing a piece of art that we called the Monolith that was more powerful than any other I'd ever experienced. By the end of the burn I felt like I had once again undergone a transformation. Here is a rare picture of Janel and I taken during the burn:

And here is a picture of our entire camp at the end of the burn:

Always an incredible experience. This year I really connected with a few of our campmates and this really added a new dimension to the burn. Michael Alahouzos, who I had met at a Vipassana retreat, and Kristofer Wolcott, who I'd met at SOAK as part of Shangri-La, were both such amazing spirits to have present. Jupiter and Alex were absolutely wonderful to have along and were so generous! Janel managed to obtain a piece of the monolith that had exploded off when it burned down with the temple. For the first few days after the burn I had incredibly intense and somewhat scary dreams about the monolith, but they eventually subsided as life returned to normal.

Last Week in Portland

Janel and I had about ten days remaining in Portland before we left for Idyllwild again. We spent our time organizing the Burning Man stuff into batches that could be stored with friends, as well as taking a couple of climbing and scenic trips. One of these trips was with my sister to the coast. We camped for a night at Ft. Stevens and also visited Ecola and Cannon Beach. Here's a picture I snapped at a pullout:

We also stopped in Tillamook for ice cream (of course) before heading back to Portland for Kirtan. Before we left Portland we hosted a going away potluck at Laurelhurt Park that turned out incredibly well. About 20-25 people came for it and we spent seven hours eating, talking, playing bocce, frisbee, music, and enjoying each other's company. Such a wonderful way to say goodbye after an amazing summer! Over the next three days we travelled to Idyllwild, Janel in her car and I on my motorcycle. We travelled separately but met up each night at our camping spots. The first night we camped on the slopes of Mt. Shasta in an amazing campsite that was very peaceful. Here's a picture of Mt. Shasta that I didn't take:

Mt Shasta is a 14,000 foot tall volcano that stands alone in Northern California and marks the southern end of the Cascades. The town of Mt. Shasta has become known recently for being a center of spiritual energy and I believe that in time Idyllwild will develop the same reputation except in Southern California. On the second day of the trip we crossed the Lassen Park and continued south through Nevada, stopping in Markleeville for the hot springs and to camp. On the third day we passed Mono Lake and dropped down the 395 corridor through Bishop where we got sandwiches at Schatt's (best bakkery ever!) before continuing to Southern California and ultimately Idyllwild. We were pretty tired, happy to have La Casita and a warm comfortable bed to sleep in.

Forward to Fall 2013
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