Construction: The Deck

Finally finished after too much procrastination!

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse and walkthrough movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

One thing I wanted on this home was a deck — a place to spend time outdoors any time of year to take in the view, entertain friends, and just kick back and relax in a comfortable place. In my opinion a home in a beautiful place needs an outdoor living space.

The Plan

My original plans called for just a long, narrow, covered deck on the north side of the building, over the garage doors. But I realized that I’d need room for a table and chairs so I added a wider, uncovered deck on the east side of the building. The total nearly 600 square feet was split almost evenly between the 6 x 48 foot covered deck on the north and 10 x 30 uncovered deck on the east.

The builders prepared for the north deck from the start, planting the posts at the same time they planted posts for the rest of the building. This made it easy to make the deck roof part of the living space’s roof. Later, just before pouring concrete for the building’s floor, they placed the deck posts for the east deck. And finally, near the very end of the project, they spent two days framing the deck.

Front of Home in August 2014
Here’s what the front of my home looked like on August 1, 2014.

And that was all they did. There was no deck floor, no deck rails. That would be up to me.

Off to a Slow Start

Although the deck’s completion, with rails, was required for final inspection, it was very low on my priority list. If you click the new home construction tag and page back through the blog posts that appear, you’ll get a better idea of what I considered more important. Almost everything. And that was especially the case as summer turned to autumn and then winter.

When spring rolled around, I was ready to start thinking about the deck. I already knew that I wanted composite decking — I have absolutely no desire to paint or stain or waterproof wood.

I struggled for a while trying to figure out what brand and color I wanted. I shied away from Trex — the popular brand name — because their new decking planks are wrapped with color and have a different color core. That means if the deck is gouged, the interior color would show through. Choice Deck, which is the brand I went with, was the same color throughout. And although I could get a gray color that Lowe’s had in stock for about 20% less, I went with the reddish tan color I preferred. After all, I have to live with it — may as well get something I really like.

I did the math and ordered 100 12-foot planks. The guy at Lowe’s got me a contractor’s discount. I paid for delivery and waited.

Deck Delivery
100 pieces of Choice Decking being delivered.

Stack of Decking
The stack of decking effectively blocked the garage.

The deck arrived on April 3 on a semi flatbed truck. It came palletized in three bundles. The driver left the truck on the road and drove the pallets in, stacked, on a three-wheeled forklift. He backed it down my driveway, which I thought was weird, but it worked. I had him leave it in front of my big garage door. At the time, my RV was in there but my helicopter was still in California on a frost contract.

Traveling for the frost contract and doing other things around my home kept me too busy to start on the deck. At least that’s what I like to tell people. In reality, I was probably procrastinating. The problem was, I didn’t know how I’d get the decking materials up to the deck and didn’t know how to install it. And then there was the height problem — my deck is 10 feet off the ground and the only way I could walk on it was on 2 x 8 sheets of plywood I’d put down. I’d tried (and failed) to hook up my deck light fixtures because I’ve kinda sorta got a fear of heights.

It was only after watching a video on the Lowe’s website and realizing that it wasn’t going to get done by itself that I was ready to move forward.

I realized that I could stand up a piece of decking against the framing and then pull it up from on top. That solved the how to move it problem. I’d stand up a handful of boards, then climb the stairs, go out onto a piece of plywood, and pull the boards up, one at a time. What a workout! I pulled up about a half dozen pieces to get started.

My friend Rich volunteered to help and I’ll never say no to volunteer helpers. He came by on his day off and we started laying the first few pieces closest to the door of the front (east) deck. It took some trial and error, but by the time we took a break a while later, we had the first five or six pieces laid.

Later that day, I was called to California on my frost contract and was gone for two full days. I’m not sure why I was so surprised that the deck hadn’t laid itself while I was gone.

More procrastinating. I am an expert.

But now I had a hard deadline: the helicopter was coming back on April 22 and I needed to get it in the garage. That meant I needed to get my RV out so I could shift it to the right and make room. That meant I needed that pile of decking off my driveway apron. I got to work.

Laying Deck
I shot this about halfway through my second day of laying decking.

For the next week, I worked on the deck almost every day. It became a tedious full-time job. Although you’d think it was like laying my floor, which I almost enjoyed, it wasn’t. Every single piece had to be trimmed, pilot holes had to be drilled, screws had to be driven. Lots of kneeling and crawling around and getting up. It was tedious. The only good thing about it was that I was able to work out in the warm sun and get some color back into my skin after the long, dark winter indoors. And dragging those planks up from down below helped me build (and feel) muscles I never knew I had.

I worked my way across and down the front deck, feeling a real sense of achievement when I could finally stand on a solid deck by one of the supporting posts. That’s when I started thinking hard about the rail.

The Guard Rails

I know what I wanted: something that I could see through. I didn’t want to block the view with bars that the county required to be a maximum of four inches apart. I’d put tall windows in my home, set low so you could see out them even when sitting down. I wasn’t about to block that view with ugly vertical rails every four inches.

The obvious solution was clear tempered glass. I went to the home improvement show at the Town Toyota Center, a local venue, which seemed to be timed just perfectly to research solutions. I spoke to three guys who did decking and got a quote for the materials alone: more than $3,000. Ouch! I don’t know why I was so surprised. I needed 105 linear feet of rail.

My friend Bob and I had discussed using wire fence panels as an alternative. I did some research and found some 3 x 16 galvanized welded wire panels with 4 x 4 squares. I was quoted $59 each. I’d need eight of them. I already had several solid vertical posts, but I’d need other ones in the six 12-foot spans. (Posts in a pole building are typically placed 12 feet on center.) Bob and I worked the idea, tossing thoughts back and forth. We came up with a solution that would use pressure treated lumber to “pinch” the wire panels, holding them in place. We’d then use ripped pieces of the decking material to support a trimmed piece of deck as the top rail. The solution would not only be cost effective, but it would be just as maintenance-free as the rest of the deck.

bolts
These are two of the 7-inch long 1/2 inch bolts holding the central vertical supports for my deck rails.

Bob went with me to pick up the panels. He has a small trailer with a lumber rack on it that was perfect to transport the 16-foot panels. When I picked them up, I discovered that the price quote had been wrong: the panels were only $25 each. ($200 saved!) He and I worked together on a “proof-of concept” section. This included a central vertical support made of a 2×4 and 4×4 that pinched the center of a panel. Those were attached by driving two large bolts through the header at the outside edge of the deck.

Although the end result wasn’t perfect — I’d tweak the design as I installed the remaining panels — it was pretty damn good. And it looked good, too — perfect for the building’s construction style. Rustic without being trashy.

Proof of Concept
The first rail panel for the deck looked surprisingly good.

Finishing Up

North Deck in Progress
It was at about this point when I realized I didn’t have enough deck planks.

But before I could do the rails, I needed to finish the deck. As I wound around the corner to the north deck, I realized that I’d soon run out of planks. I’d made a minor miscalculation but also needed more pieces for the rail. I did some more math and ordered another 40 pieces. This time, I had them delivered to the north side of the building, leaving the driveway apron clear.

Dog in Composite Sawdust
Composite decking makes saw “dust” when you rip it, too. Dog not included.

I kept at it. Every once in a while, to break the tedium, I’d do one of the side rails. I had two 6-foot lengths which didn’t need central vertical supports. They were easy to do. I realized that if I cut the decking planks to length before I ripped them, I didn’t need help pulling them through the table saw’s blade. (Duh.) I also had two 10-foot lengths; a discussion with the inspector assured me that I’d need central supports for those. Trouble was, that required climbing a 10-foot ladder and using a drill to drill through up to three 2x12s. I tried — I really did. I even bought a special drill bit that I thought might make the job easier. But in the end, I realized that I lacked the physical strength to do the job. I’d have to get Bob back for a marathon bolt installation session.

Bolt Cutters
Any job is easy when you have the right tools — right, honey?

In the meantime, I finished the deck surface. My friend Barbara came by to help on the last day of that chore — she and I sped through the screwing process, assembly-line style.

Then I measured, cut, ripped and installed as much of the rail panels as I could. I had to buy a humongous bolt cutter to get through the galvanized wire without having to stand on the handle of the smaller bolt cutter I already had every time I made a cut. I used the same technique to get the 12-foot long wire panels up to the deck as I’d used for the planks: stand them up, then go upstairs and pull them up one at a time. I put them into position and set up the vertical supports.

Then I got Bob back. He worked with me on a rainy morning, climbing the ladder to drill holes and fasten bolts, never complaining once as we buzzed through the job. When he was gone, the only thing left to do was the top rails.

Did I ever mention that I was a master procrastinator?

Deck almost done
This shot shows the north deck with the rail panels waiting to be capped.

I don’t know why I didn’t just do it. I’d cut and ripped everything I needed and laid it out by each panel on the deck. Yes, some trimming was required, but I could use my little circular saw for that. All my tools were there, all the screws I needed. Everything. Yet it took more than two weeks for me to get the job done, doing a panel or two every few days.

I think it was the inspector requiring me to get the caps on that finally put a fire under my butt. Yesterday, while I was home waiting for it to rain (so I could get to the work that actually pays for this stuff), I finally did the last two rail caps.

I was done.

Front Today
Here’s what the front of my house looks like today. I’ve got some cleaning up to do under the deck.

It was a lot of work and I did about 95% of it myself. I don’t regret it one bit. While I could have hired someone to do the labor — at a cost of at least $2,000 — there’s something so rewarding about doing a job yourself, seeing it done, and remembering what it took to get it done.

So much of my new home is like that. I worked hard to do most of the electrical work, all of the flooring (including bathroom tile), and all of the in-closet and shop storage solutions. To say that I’m amazed and proud of what I’ve accomplished is an understatement of epic proportions.

And I reap the benefits of all that hard work every day as I begin to enjoy my new home.

Video Tour

Want to see the new deck? Here’s a video tour. Sorry I look so ratty in the beginning, but I was tired when I recorded it.

Dear Elizabeth

A letter to a former friend.

Dear Elizabeth,

Rooibos TeaAs amazing as this might seem, I’ve been thinking a lot about you this winter.

It started when I found an old box of rooibos chai tea in my pantry. You might not recall this, but you introduced me to red tea years and years ago at your Howard Mesa home. I bought a box and drank it often at home. Somehow, it got shifted to my RV and brought up to Washington. The box “expired” in 2009 — giving you an idea of just how old it was! — but the tea still tastes fine.

Each time I have a cup of that tea, I think of you. I think of your wonderful little home on the Mesa. The wood burning stove. The views. Your work-in-progress illustrated book about the local plants. The cats. I think of dinners there and the few times you came to our pitiful — but much loved, at least on my part — cabin a few miles away and let us cook for you and Matt.

I think of the old days, when things were still good between all of us.

I really liked you. I thought you were a good, well-grounded, happy person. I was happy that you’d become a part of your daughter’s life. You always made me feel welcome at your home. You made me feel like a friend.

So imagine my disappointment when I wrote to you in September 2012 to tell you about my ex-husband’s infidelity and warn you that some men, when left alone, will find companionship other than their wives. I never expected you to forward that email to Matt. I never expected it to be forwarded to my estranged husband with the complaint from Matt that I was trying to destroy his marriage.

I didn’t bother you again after that.

Or, actually, I did. As I was driving away from Howard Mesa that last time in April or May 2013, I tried to call you on the phone. It rang and rang. I wondered if you knew it was me and were purposely letting it ring. I don’t recall if I left a message. It doesn’t matter. You never called back.

At that point, I knew that any friendship we might have had was over. And I began to doubt whether you’d been my friend at all.

Fast forward to today.

A mutual friend — someone you might not even know personally — told me that you and Matt had split and that Matt had remarried very soon after the divorce.

All I can say is wow.

I’m left to wonder whether he already had a replacement for you when he complained to my future ex-husband about me trying to destroy your marriage. Or whether you finally wised up and dumped the man who’s likely responsible for some of the seriously bad advice my future ex-husband received during his costly and futile attempts to steal my business assets.

It doesn’t matter to me. Water under the bridge.

I called you today to chat. A little about this, and a little about what I want to finish up with:

I still think you’re a fine person. You have a good heart, you’re smart, you’re attractive, and you’re relatively young. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finding a much better replacement for the man you left behind — if you even want one. Maybe you’ve already replaced him.

No matter what happens to you in this life, please know that I’ll always wish the best for you. Also know that if you ever need someone to talk to, my phone number is the same and I’ll do my best to answer or return calls from you. My door is always open for you, too.

If I never hear from you again, that’s fine, too. There’s just one tea bag left in the box. When it’s gone, I won’t be buying another box. The chapter of my life that included you and your rooibos tea will finally be closed for good.

Your friend,
Maria

February 8 Update: Well, as more facts about your breakup come to light, I now fully understand why you never got in touch with me again. Was it shame? I doubt it. Women like you don’t feel shame. No matter. I’m embarrassed to admit how much I misjudged your character. You’re just as low as the demented old whore who snagged my wasband with her sweet-talk, lies, and lingerie photos.

But I am glad that Matt was on the receiving end. He deserves whatever shit he gets.

Still, don’t marriage vows mean anything to anyone these days?

I’ll never understand why you forwarded my email message to him. But don’t worry; I haven’t lost any sleep over that and don’t think I ever will.

As for that invitation to call or stop by — you can just forget about it. And I’ll toss that last tea bag. I’m eager to close the chapter on you as soon as possible.

About the Header Images

A quick summary of where the current images were taken and who I was with.

You may not realize it, but I shot all of the photos that appear in the header on this site. There are currently more than 90 of them and they’re set up to appear randomly. Each time you visit this site or click a link to another page here, the image up top should change.

I noticed just the other day that although all images were shot within the past 10 years, the vast majority were shot when I was alone. That made me realize how much I traveled by myself, even when I was married, and how the places and things I saw were beautiful or interesting enough to capture an image of.

Anyway, here are the images, with summaries.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa

This was an alfalfa field near where I spent my summer in Quincy, WA. I think I shot this in 2008. Alone.

American Coot Family 1 & 2

American Coot Family

American Coot Family 2

I shot these two images at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Bark

Bark

Birch Bark 2

I like photos that show texture. These close up photos of bark were shot at Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Barn Roof, Wagon, and Waterville Farmland

Barn Roof

Barn Wagon

Waterville Farmland

These three images were shot on the Waterville Plateau near Douglas, WA, probably in 2009. I was with my wasband.

Basalt Cliffs

Basalt Cliff

I’m pretty sure this photo was shot while repositioning my RV from Washington to Arizona by way of Glacier National Park with my wasband — one of the last “vacations” we had together — in 2009. I think it’s at Palouse Falls.

BC Mountains Pano

BC Mountains Pano

This was shot from a cruise ship on an Alaska Cruise with my wasband in 2007. Our last day on board took us between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

BHCB

BHCB

This was shot at Quincy Lakes in 2008 or 2009. I assume BHCB is an abbreviation for the type of bird. Alone.

Birch Leaves

Birch Leaves

I liked the way the sun shined through these leaves in the late afternoon. Shot at Quincy near the golf course in 2008. Alone.

Blue Heron & White Heron

Blue Heron

White Heron

I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in Central California in 2014 when I shot these photos of herons.

Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake

This was shot at Glacier National Park in 2009 while traveling from Washington to Arizona with my wasband.

Bryce and Bryce Dawn

Bryce

Bryce Dawn

These two photos were shot at Bryce Canyon in 2011. I’d gone there with a client in January on a photo flight for this 360 interactive panorama: Bryce Canyon in Winter, Utah, USA.

Cache Creek

Cache Creek 1

Cache Creek 2

Cache Creek 3

Cache Creek 4

These four images of Cache Creek were taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on an early morning flight up Cache Creek in Central California in 2014. I was alone.

Cascades

Cascades

This image of a ridge and cloud-filled valleys was taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on a flight between Wenatchee, WA and Hillsboro, OR in 2012. I blogged about the flight here and shared video from the flight here. It’s notable not only for the perfect weather and amazing scenery, but because it was my dog Penny’s first helicopter flight — 90 minutes long! And yes, that is Mt. St. Helens in the background.

Cherry Drying Cockpit

Cherry Drying Cockpit

This is a shot from a GoPro camera mounted in the back of my helicopter during a cherry drying flight. It was probably taken in 2011.

Close Up Wheat

Close Up Wheat

This closeup of wheat growing in a field in Quincy, WA was shot in 2009. I was alone.

Combine

Combine

This aerial shot of a wheat combine at harvest on the Waterville Plateau in North Central Washington was shot in 2011 during a flight between Wenatchee and Coeur d’Alene, ID. My friend Jim was flying his helicopter; I was on board with a camera.

Corn

Corn

I like patterns. This field of young corn plants in Quincy, WA was capture in 2009. I was alone.

Cows in the Road

Cows in the Road

I was on my way up to my old Howard Mesa, AZ place one bright winter day when I came upon these cows following tire tracks in the road. When I approached, they just stopped and stared. I took a photo before continuing, herding them along with my Jeep. I can’t be sure of the date, but I expect it was around 2003 or 2004. I was probably with my friend Jeremy.

Cracked Mud

Cracked Mud

I shot this alongside the road to Alstrom Point on the northwest end of Lake Powell in Utah. It was probably shot in 2008. I was alone.

Crescent Bar View, Yellow Flowers

Crescent Bar View

Yellow Flowers

I shot these photo of Crescent Bar in Quincy, WA in 2009 not long after drying a cherry orchard down by the river there. I was alone.

Dandelion

Dandelion

I shot this photo of a dandelion seed puff in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Desert Still Life & Desert Wildflowers

Desert Still Life

Desert Wildflowers

I shot these photo of hedgehog cacti blooms and California poppies near Wickenburg, AZ between 2009 and 2011. It was probably on one or two Jeep outings and I was probably with either my wasband or my friend Janet.

Fern

Fern

Patterns and textures again. This was shot in Alaska sometime during a cruise with my wasband in 2007.

Float Plane

Float Plane

I shot this image of a float plane taking off at an Alaska port while on a cruise with my wasband in 2007. It was shot from the balcony of our stateroom.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This image of the Golden Gate Bridge was shot during a trip to San Francisco in 2011. Not sure if I was alone — isn’t that odd? — but I was probably there for a Macworld Expo speaking gig.

Glacial River Rocks

Glacial River Rocks

I shot this closeup of rocks in a river bed while on a trip to Denali National Park in 2007 with my wasband.

Golf Balls

Golf Balls

Attach a GoPro to the bottom of a helicopter with the lens pointing down. Then hover over a golf course green and drop hundreds of golf balls. This is what it might look like. Shot in late 2011 or early 2012. My client was dropping the balls.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Grand Canyon Sunset

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon countless times so I don’t know exactly when this was taken or whether I was alone. I know it was shot before the summer of 2011.

Gyro Cache Creek & Gyro Pattern

Gyro Cache Creek

Gyro Pattern

I learned how to fly a gyroplane in the spring of 2014. These two shots were made with a GoPro mounted on the mast. In the first shot, I’m flying up Cache Creek; in the second, I’m doing a traffic pattern at Woodland Airport. Both were shot in Central California.

Hay Bales

Hay Bales

I’m pretty sure this was shot on the road between Upper Moses Coulee and Waterville in North Central Washington in 2009. I was alone.

Helicopter

Heli Header

This is a photo of my helicopter right after sunrise parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

High Tension

High Tension

This was shot in 2008 near the Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, WA. I was on a daytrip with my wasband.

Hopi House

Hopi House

Another trip to the Grand Canyon. I suspect I was alone when I shot this one, possibly on a day trip by helicopter with clients from Phoenix. Sometime between 2009 and 2011.

Houses

Houses

Here’s another straight down image shot with a GoPro from my helicopter. This was Peoria, AZ in 2011 or 2012. I was alone.

Inspecting Bees

Inspecting Bees

I set up a GoPro on a tripod to record a beehive inspection in 2013. That’s me in the picture; I was alone.

International

International

This is a closeup of an old International truck parked outside the bakery at Stehekin, WA. I was there with my wasband and another couple on a helicopter trip in 2011.

Juvenile Robin

Juvenile Robin

Shot in 2008 at Quincy, WA. I was alone.

Ladders, Side

Ladders Side

Patterns again. These are orchard ladders neatly stacked at an Orchard in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008.

Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa

An aerial view of Lake Berryessa in Central California, shot with my helicopter’s nosecam in 2014. I was alone.

Lake McDonald Sunset

Lake McDonald Sunset

This was shot on a trip to Glacier National Park with my wasband in 2009.

Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. This is a dawn flight over Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, AZ. I was alone.

Maine Coastal Town & Main Fog

Main Coastal Town

Maine Fog

I shot these during a trip to Maine to visit some former friends with my wasband back in 2008 or 2009.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. I’m pretty sure I shot this one on my way back from a Bryce Canyon photo shoot with a client in 2011.

Mini-Stack

Mini-Stack

An aerial view of the so-called “mini-stack” of at I-17 and Route 101 in north Phoenix, AZ. Probably shot in 2011 or 2012.

Mission Ridge Pano

Mission Ridge Pano

I shot this photo from Wenatchee Mountain near Wenatchee, WA during a jeep ride to Mission Ridge with my friend Don in 2014. What an amazing day!

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

I’ve flown over Monument Valley dozens of times. Once in a while, there’s a camera on the helicopter’s nose. This was probably shot in 2011. I was either alone or with aerial photo clients.

Monument Valley Wide

Monument Valley Wide

I used to do multi-day excursions by helicopter to Arizona destinations that included Monument Valley. While my clients took tours, I’d explore on my own. This is Monument Valley from the overlook, shot in 2010 or 2011.

Moonset Sunrise

Moonset Sunrise

I used to camp out at a friend’s place overlooking Squilchuck Valley near Wenatchee, WA. This was one of the early morning views from my doorstep. I was alone.

North to the Future

North to the Future

I shot this in Girdwood, AK in 2008. I’d gone up there alone for a job interview. I got an offer but turned it down. Beautiful place.

No Wake

No Wake

I shot this with my 10.5mm fisheye lens at Lake Pateros, WA in 2008. I was with my wasband.

Orchard Still Life

Orchard Still Life

These are apples culled from the trees in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008; I was alone.

Peacock

Peacock

This is one of the dozens of peacocks strolling around at the Lake Solano campground in central California. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

Penny Kayak

Penny Kayak

This is one of the few images I didn’t shoot. I was on a kayak trip in the American River near Sacramento with a Meetup group and one of the other members shot this and sent it to me.

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood

I’m not sure, but I think this was shot in Vantage, WA in 2008 or 2009. I was probably alone.

Phoenix

Phoenix

Another nosecam image, this time of downtown Phoenix. Shot in 2011 or early 2012; I was likely on a tour with passengers.

Poppies and Chicory

Poppies and Chicory

Another desert jeep trip near Wickenburg, AZ. I could have been alone, with my wasband, or with my friend Janet.

Poppies Plus

Poppies Plus

This wildflower closeup was shot on a trip to the Seattle area, possibly in 2007 with my wasband and his cousin.

Quail Mom

Quail Mom

A Gambols quail hen and her chicks, shot from my doorstep in Wenatchee Heights, WA in 2012. I was alone.

Rafting

Rafting

Put a GoPro in a head mount, get in a raft, and head down the Wenatchee River and this is the result. I was rafting with a bunch of friends in 2013.

Red Wing Blackbird

Red Wing BlackBird

Red Wing Blackbird 1

Red Wing Blackbird 2

I shot these at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Rocks Under Water

Rocks Under Water

I’m pretty sure I shot this in 2009 at Glacier National Park on a trip with my wasband.

Saguaro Boulders

Saguar Boulders Big

I shot this photo of saguaro cacti among sandstone boulders near Congress, AZ on a Jeep trip in 2009 or 2010. I was probably with my wasband.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

This is an aerial shot of the sand dunes west of Yuma, AZ. This was probably shot in 2008 on a flight to the San Diego area with my wasband.

San Francisco

San Francisco

What a memorable flight! This was on a ferry flight from the Phoenix area to Seattle in 2008. Another pilot was flying my helicopter so I got to take photos. Low clouds over the coast forced us high over San Fransisco. Amazing views!

Sedona

Sedona

The red rocks of Sedona at Oak Creek. Shot in 2010 or 2011 while on a multi-day excursion with passengers.

Squilchuck View

Squilchuck View

The view from where I spent several late summers at Wenatchee Heights. This was probably shot in 2012.

Steam Train

Steam Train

This is an aerial shot of the old Grand Canyon Railroad steam train. I used to buzz that train with my helicopter any time I saw it from the air. This was probably shot in 2007. I was alone.

Stucco Scroll

Stucco Scroll

I shot this on a photo walk at the San Xavier Mission in Arizona with my wasband and a group of photographers.

Sunset

Sunset

I can’t be sure, but I think I shot this from Howard Mesa in 2006 or 2007.

Surprise Valley Drugs

Surprise Valley Drugs

I shot this in California during my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” I was alone. It was one of the best vacations in my life.

Helicopter Tail

Tail Header

An early morning shot of my helicopter parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. Shot in 2014; I was alone.

Tetons

Tetons

Another shot from my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” This was at the Grand Tetons.

Turtle

Turtle

Shot while I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in 2014.

Two Hillers

Two Hillers

I shot this at Brewster Airport in Brewster, WA on a day trip with my wasband in 2008.

Wheat Irrigation

Wheat Irrigation

Textures and patterns. What’s not to love about them? Shot in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird 2

I shot both of these photos at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Flower

Yellow Flower

A yellow flower. Probably shot somewhere in Washington state in 2011 or 2012. I’m sure I was alone.

Yellow Kayak

Yellow Kayak

Although my kayaks are yellow, this isn’t one of them. This was shot at Glacier National Park on a trip there with my wasband in 2009.

Playing Like a Kid In the Snow

Makes you feel like a kid again.

Saturday, I went to a “winter fun” party at a friend’s house up in Peshastin. He lives up a canyon, on 15 acres of what used to be an orchard. In addition to his 1940s era home and open garage, he has a handful of apricot trees, a small pond for storing irrigation water from a creek that runs through his property, and a few hiking trails that wind up into the national forest that borders his land. It’s quite idyllic out there — very quiet with little road traffic and lots of trees.

And snow.

Even though Peshastin is only about 20 minutes by car from Wenatchee, they get more snow up there. It’s a higher elevation and it’s closer to the Cascades. Because of that, my friend Kirk planned a winter fun party at his home there. Activities would include sledding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and skating. There would be a bonfire and a potluck dinner.

Since leaving Arizona, I’ve embraced the snowy winter days here in North Central Washington state. It started with my return to cross-country skiing and taking up snowshoeing last season and continued this year with a return to ice skating. While I still like to stay warm, I discovered — belatedly, apparently — that with the proper clothes you can keep quite warm in the typical 20-30°F winter weather we get. I got the clothes last year and have been giving them plenty of use.

And yes, I know 20-30°F isn’t that cold. In fact, I think it’s milder here than the winters we had back in the New York metro area. But after 15 years in Arizona, it’s a bit chillier than I’m used to.

Kirk wasted no time getting us organized for sledding and skating. He had some equipment; some of us brought our own. Although I would have liked to go skating, my knee was still sore from the nasty fall I’d had the last time I skated. I swore that I wouldn’t skate again without knee pads — and not until my knee was fully recovered. I just don’t heal as well as I used to when I was a kid. (Duh.)

Instead, I opted for sledding. Kirk and Pete had a few old runner sleds, including one that looked just like my old Flexible Flyer. I gave one of them a try on the relatively mellow hill that led from the road to the pond. I was disappointed. The sled was old, the runners were rough with rust, and the hill wasn’t slick enough. I was a long way from the quarter mile sled runs down the street from where I used to live in Cresskill, NJ, starting in the woods out behind the Merrifield’s house and ending on Brookside Avenue.

Kirk skates among the piles of snow on his pond. The wise-ass requesting the double axel is me.

Meanwhile, Kirk was skating and others were just walking around on the frozen pond surface. Kirk had shoveled the snow onto big piles and was gliding gracefully among them.

Pete, in the meantime, had a need for speed. He’d taken one of the metal saucer sleds he’d brought along and had climbed to the top of a much steeper hill that led down to the pond. As we watched, he launched himself down the hillside, crashing into the tall frozen reeds at the side of the pond. Not to be deterred, he did it again. And again. After a while, he wore out a good, fast track down to the ice.


My first run down the hill.


My second run down the hill was enough for me.

He kind of dared Megan to try it. She wasn’t interested, but I was. I climbed up the hill, sort of surprised by how steep it was — it didn’t look that steep from the pond. Then I grabbed one of the sleds and, after asking Pete for some advice, launched myself down the hill. It was wicked fast and wicked bumpy. No control at all. About halfway down, I closed my eyes. I finally skidded to a stop on the ice, laughing and groaning. Megan caught the whole thing on video.

And if that wasn’t enough, I did it again. The second time, I definitely got airborne at least twice. The banging sled beat the crap out of me. When I slid to a stop on the ice, I just lay there, laughing. That was enough for me.

Pete kept going, through. On one of his runs, both Megan and I had video cameras rolling. I was up top and actually gave him a push down, so my video is very bumpy. But it’s interesting to see the two camera angles side by side.

 
Two views of one of Pete’s better runs.

By that time, Kirk and Kathy had moved on to sledding on another hill. The rest of us joined them. It was getting dark and Kirk wanted to take us on a quick hike before it got too dark to see. So I loaded Penny up in my day pack — mostly because I didn’t want to worry about her running off after real or imagined wildlife — and we we all followed Kirk up one of the trails behind his house. I think we would have made an excellent commercial for Sorels boots, since I think we were all wearing them. The path was snowy but not slippery and the forest around us was quiet with snow on the evergreen branches. We stopped on the way back to admire Kirk’s tractor — that’s how things are around here — and swap stories about how useful they can be around the area. I might have convinced Kirk to use his tractor to dig some holes for trees for me this spring. Fingers crossed.

Megan and Pete
Megan and Pete stand beside the fire.

While we were gone, the fire Kirk had started earlier in the day and fed with scrap lumber I brought along had come to life. We sat around it in lawn chairs. A few other people showed up, including Kirk’s housemates. Kirk and Kathy poured out some warm Glühwein from Leavenworth. We chatted, told stories, took photos.

Afterwards, we went inside for dinner. Clam chowder, leek soup (my contribution), garlic bread, fresh fruit, pizza, lasagna, and more. We sat around the big table Kirk had set up in his living room. It was warm and toasty indoors — so warm that I stripped down to my bottom layer Under Armor.

Of course, there was more. After dinner, six of us drove about a half mile up the road to a National Forest trailhead. We strapped on our snowshoes and started a hike up an old, closed off forest road. It was full dark out by then and thin clouds filtered much of the light from the full moon. Most people had headlamps. We crunched up the trail with snow covered evergreens and hillsides or ravines on either side of us. It was magical out there, especially when, on the way back, it began snowing.

Back at the house, Kirk and Kathy went back out to the pond to skate in the moonlight. The rest of us enjoyed the warmth of the wood-burning stove, chatting about life, careers, and retirement. A while later, just as Kirk and Kathy were coming back we prepped to go home. It had been a great day out in the snow and, for me, a reminder of my younger days.

Although I’m sure I’ll have bruises on my back from the edges of that silly saucer sled, it was worth it to remember my young, fearless, and carefree days as a kid.

Thanksgiving at Friday Harbor

New friends and great food on a busy weekend.

Since I live so far from family, I’ve gotten into the habit of spending Thanksgiving with friends. Although I got four Thanksgiving invitations this year — thanks, everyone! — I accepted the one I got first, well over a month ago: to accompany my friend Bob to Friday Harbor for Thanksgiving at his friends’ home.

The Trip Out

Friday Harbor is on San Juan Island at the very northwest corner of Washington State. It’s so far north, in fact, that it’s north of the lower end of Canada’s Vancouver Island. Getting there requires a 3-hour drive to Anacortes followed by a 1+-hour ferry ride — and that’s if Route 2 through Stevens Pass is clear and open. If Stevens is closed, add another hour to get through Blewett and Snowqualmie passes on Route 97 and I-90. Back in August, when I spent a week with a friend out at Lopez Island, I’d elected to take the helicopter out to avoid the long drive. But in winter, that didn’t seem like a reasonable possibility given the usual low clouds over the Cascades and real possibility of bad weather so I didn’t even suggest it.

San Juan Island on Map
San Juan Island is the farthest west island on this map, which also shows the mainland to the east. The black line you can see in the left top and bottom of this image is the U.S.-Canada Border.

Penny and I packed up on Wednesday and spent the night at Bob’s house. We were making an early start to catch the 8:30 ferry out of Anacortes and Bob wanted to leave at 4 AM. It was my job to keep track of the conditions in the passes so we could pick an appropriate route. WADOT offers a wealth of information about its highways and passes on its Website, including up-to-the-minute pass information and webcams. Fortunately Stevens looked good so we headed out the most direct route in Bob’s pickup. Although I’d offered to take my 4WD pickup on the trip — its tires had less than 5,000 miles on them — Bob had prepped his 2WD pickup with a set up studded snow tires, just in case weather turned bad along the drive.

Penny and Bob’s dog, Skip, settled down in the back seat for the long drive. There was no one on the road. Well, no one going our direction, anyway. We did pass a few cars coming east on Route 2. The road was clear and dry and other than a few foggy areas, easy to drive. Crossing Stevens Pass was a non event and we headed down the west side, still in the dark. The days here are short this time of year and it wasn’t until we got near I-5 that it started getting light.

We stopped for coffee at one of Washington’s ubiquitous drive-up coffee stands — honestly, how do coffee-drinking people live without these? While I chatted with the girl at the window — who was working a 6:10 AM on Thanksgiving Day, mind you — Bob took the dogs for a quick walk. Before leaving, I thanked the girl for being there and gave her a big tip to really show my appreciation. The eggnog latte was good and hot.

We stopped at Safeway in Anacortes before getting on the ferry queue. We’d brought along the fixings for quiche — 15 eggs from my chickens, along with chopped ham and scallions from Bob’s fridge — but needed a pie crust, cheese, and half-and-half. I ran in to get all these things while Bob waited with the dogs. I also bought a small Poinsettia for our hosts. I hate going anywhere empty handed — not that we were going empty-handed. In addition to our quiche ingredients, I’d brought 2 bottles of wine, a bottle of local hard cider, and a jar of honey and Bob had brought 6 bottles of Martinelli’s sparkling cider in two flavors. We had a cooler and a box full of goodies in addition to our luggage.

Inside the Ferry
Inside the ferry to Friday Harbor.

The wait for the ferry wasn’t long, but we did have time to get out and stretch our legs with the dogs one more time. Then we loaded up with the rest of the cars, winding up in the middle of the main deck on the Elwha. We hung around in the truck for a while, then went upstairs to take in the view of the islands as we sailed past. By then, it was fully light out, but overcast. The ferry boat moved along at a good clip and I used Google Maps on my phone to identify the islands as we zipped past them.

Another Ferry
Our ferry boat wasn’t the only one on the water that gray morning.

Ferry View
A look back down the deck of the ferry.

Thanksgiving Day with Friends

The ferry was an express that stopped at Friday Harbor and Sidney, B.C. only. We got into Friday Harbor just before 10 AM. From there, it was a short drive to Liz and Brad’s house on 20 acres. I think they were surprised to see us so early. Liz was just putting in the turkey.

The Pond
The pond behind Liz and Brad’s house shortly after Penny chased away all the ducks.

Bob and Skip
Bob and Skip pose for a photo at American Camp. Skip seems more interested in what Penny is doing than the camera.

After quick introductions, we established that Bob was hungry and Liz and Brad had already eaten. So Bob and I headed back out to find some breakfast in town. We wound up at a bustling local market, which was just the kind of upscale small supermarket I love, and ate breakfast sandwiches on the tailgate of Bob’s truck. Then we drove around the island to kill some time. We wound up taking a walk out at a place called American Camp, the site of an almost-war back in the 1800s. It was a good opportunity for the dogs to run around. By that time, the sky had cleared and it was becoming a beautiful day. We got as far south as the lighthouse I’d flown over back in August before heading back to the house.

The Turkey
The turkey tasted as yummy as it looked here.

Back at Liz and Brad’s house, we relaxed while the turkey cooked. Liz and I popped open that bottle of hard cider and drank almost all of it before the other guests began arriving. And there were a lot of guests. Soon the house was crowded with adults and young people drinking cider and wine and munching on crab dip, salmon spread, and hummus, chatting and having a good time.

Party Time
I took a break to snap this photo, not realizing that only half the guests had arrived at this point.

Brad carved the turkey and Liz set up a buffet line at her kitchen island. Soon, 15 of us were sitting at a pair of tables put together on an angle to fit in the dining room. The food was great — as you’d expect a Thanksgiving dinner to be — and there was a ton of it. Fortunately, I was boxed into my seat so I couldn’t easily get up for seconds. I made up for that by trying both the homemade cheese cake and apple pie for dessert.

Cleanup went quickly with so many people helping and about half of us went into the living room to watch the football game. The local team, the Seattle Seahawks, were playing the San Francisco 49ers — the perfect game for a Washington crowd. The game had started about a half hour before and Brad had DVRed it so he could fast-forward through all the commercials. I settled down on the floor with Penny on my lap. But since I’d been up since 2:30 AM — thanks to Penny needing to take a pee at Bob’s house — I was exhausted and fell asleep. I missed most of the game but woke up at the end to find the Seahawks victorious again.

The guests left in small groups after that. Soon it was just Liz, Brad, Bob, and me. We cleaned up a bit more, then retired to sleeping quarters. Penny and I were staying in the “craft room,” which was where Liz does her quilting and Brad builds large scale radio controlled airplanes that he flies on a grass strip in his back yard. The walls of the room were covered with quilts and Brad’s photos of wildlife and airplanes.

Craft Room
One of Brad’s projects in the craft room.

Black Friday — without Shopping

I slept reasonably well, waking up only once to wonder where I was. Hearing noise outside my room, I put on my slippers to join Liz while Penny went looking for and eventually found Skip. Soon Liz and Bob and I were drinking coffee while I was whipping up two quiches — one with cheddar and the other with mozzarella. I was horrified to see that I’d bought fat-free half-and-half — I mean, what’s the point, right? — but that quiche turned out just as good as the one I made with Liz’s regular half-and-half. The three of us polished off a whole quiche. Brad missed out; he had to go to work.

Afterwards, we dressed and went out for a drive in Bob’s car. It was cloudy again and cool. Liz took us to see the lavender farm, which was closed, and a handful of parks. Then we drove up to the top of a ridge where some private developer had tried (and failed) to sell 20-acre parcels that were virtually unbuildable for $210K+ each. The land now belonged to the San Juan County Land Bank, which buys up land in the area to prevent development. In the future, it would be a park with trails. We drove through Roche Harbor, where I’d flown in by helicopter for dinner with my friend Don years ago, and then headed back to Friday Harbor.

Back in town, we met up with Liz’s son Chris, his wife Kelly, and their two kids at a local holiday market. There were about 30 artists and other vendors there, selling their wares. It was refreshing to attend one of these that wasn’t full of the same southwestern stuff I’d seen over and over in Arizona when I lived there. I bought a beeswax lip balm and some locally sun-dried sea salt. I was sorely tempted by some wall sculptures, but held back by my new rule: No buying anything for my home until it’s done.

Afterwards, we went with Chris and Kelly to a house Chris and his partner are refurbishing. (Chris is a carpenter.) Originally built in the 1940s, it’s a small place with a lawn that goes down to the harbor and has the added luxury of its own boat dock. With lots of trees on its end-of-road lot, it was a pleasant location. They’d gutted the house and rebuilt it from the inside out. Although they’d been working on it for about 16 months, they were still at least a few months from completion. I looked around and got some ideas for wood trim around my windows and flooring. The countertop material, PaperStone, was amazing and I will definitely check it out for my own kitchen countertops.

From there we went back to Roche Harbor to look at another house that Brad is overseeing the construction of. This was an upscale home, 3800 square feet, with vaulted ceilings, sweeping staircases, and lots of extras. Pretty amazing for a 2-bedroom home. The two projects — Chris’s and Brad’s — couldn’t be any more different. Here, I took mental notes on the great room’s ceiling, which was tongue-and-groove cedar planks, and bathroom tile work. I also liked the track lighting, which I’d already decided to use in my hallway, which would double as a photo gallery. The home’s owner was there, fiddling around with his computer and the various light switches that made up his smart home system. Although I plan to include some smart home accessories in my place, I don’t expect to do it to the extent that he did.

Loft Ladder
I shot this photo of the ladder to the loft in Chris’s house so I could remember some of its details. My home also has a loft — mostly for storage — and I’ve been thinking of how it could be easily reached from below.

We headed back to Liz’s house and took it easy for a while, just chatting in the kitchen over tea. Later, when Brad got home from work, we headed out to Chris’s house for a taco dinner. His family lives in an expanded cabin at the end of a long, steep dirt road. We arrived and departed after nightfall, so I didn’t get a chance to really see it. But it was cosy inside, with an eat-in kitchen, sunken living room, and wood-burning fireplace. After dinner, I got so comfortable on the sofa that I almost fell asleep again.

The Trip Home

We were up at 5 on Saturday, packing up for the trip home. Bob wanted to get on the 8 AM ferry and we’d been advised to get the car on line by 6:45 at the latest. We headed out there and got the first spot in lane 3, then walked up to The Hungry Clam, which was already almost full by then. Apparently, the place exists for ferry traffic meals. Liz and Brad joined us for a big farewell breakfast.

Outside, it was very cold and very windy. There were whitecaps on the harbor. We paid the bill just as the ferry rounded the corner and headed into the dock. We said our goodbyes with a lot of hugs and promises by Liz and Brad to come see us on “the dry side,” then hurried down to the truck. Poor Penny and Skip needed a lot of hugging and rubbing to warm up!

Because the second car in line 1 was empty and there was a truck in line 2, the ferry loaders waved us aboard as the second car on the boat. This positioned us right at the front — although they didn’t load us all the way to the line. (It later became apparent why they didn’t have us drive up closer to the edge.) Ahead of us, the water was more than a little choppy and the wind was mostly blowing right in. I got out to take a photo closer to the edge and thought I was going to get blown away.

Choppy Water
I got got right up to the pedestrian rope to take this shot. It was wicked windy and cold!

We stayed in the car for the whole trip, mostly so we could periodically start it and warm it back up for the dogs. I was glad we did. The water got progressively rougher as we got closer to Anacortes. About 30 minutes out, a loudspeaker warned of the rough ride ahead. The boat rolled in the waves and we could clearly hear waves breaking across its side. Occasionally, the front end would dip down just enough to send a wave of water onto the deck. One wave came so far into the boat that it splashed the hood of the truck. There was water sloshing around all over the deck. Several of the chocks the loaders had placed around the front tires of the cars at the head of the lines got loose and washed back and forth. I think a few might have gone overboard.


This minute-long video gives you an idea of what we experienced. A larger wave than these washed over the hood of our truck, which was at least 50 feet back from the bow. You can see Mount Baker in the distance throughout much of this video.

After hearing about so many ferry accidents overseas, I admit that I was more than a little nervous — especially when the captain kept cutting power to slow us down more and more. But then we got closer to Anacortes and the water calmed a bit. Soon we were pulling into the dock and the crew was moving the ramp into position. I was very glad when Bob steered us off the boat and onto dry land.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of our homeward bound adventure. All morning long, I’d been checking conditions in the passes. Stevens Pass, our preferred route, was reporting 24° with compact snow on the roadway and snow falling. Restrictions were “traction tires advised, oversized vehicles prohibited.” But things were worse at Snowqualmie: falling snow, areas of low visibility, and chains required. It looked as if Stevens would be our route.

All around us was fresh snow that had likely fallen overnight. It was beautiful to see — I don’t think they usually get much snow on the Seattle side of the mountains. There were a lot of cars on the road, too, but not enough to make what I’d consider “traffic.” We got on Route 2 eastbound and stopped at the Sultan Bakery for some baked goods to snack on along the way. One more stop at a park-and-ride nearby for the dogs to take a break. Then back on the road for our climb up into the mountains.

Soon it was snowing on us. The road looked remarkably as it had in the webcam photos I’d studied all morning on my phone: covered with snow with just patches of pavement showing through. Bob’s studded snow tires came in handy as we followed the other cars up the mountain. Snow fell all around us. I was glad Bob was driving. I absolutely detest highway driving in the snow.

Snow on Highway 2
Snow on Highway 2 on our way to Stevens pass and beyond.

We were both very surprised to see most of the cars turn into Stevens Pass ski resort, which I didn’t realize was open. The road was worse on the west side of the pass, but soon cleared up, although snow continued to fall past Coles Corner. By the time we got to Leavenworth, it was mostly sunny — a beautiful day with fresh snow on the ground and in trees. There was less snow in Wenatchee and, when Bob dropped me off at home, I estimated only about an inch of fresh stuff at my place.

I’d had a wonderful weekend away with Bob and his friends. Not only had I met some great new people, but I’d come away with a lot of new ideas for finishing my home. It was well worth the drive — and the adventure that had gone with it.