Travelogue: Hiking the Boundary Trail to Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

The weather here in the Pacific Northwest was absolutely gorgeous yesterday, so I traveled to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and took full advantage of it.

I drove from my home in Lewis County to the Hummocks Trail parking area, a trip of roughly an hour and 15 minutes covering 60 or so miles. I set out on the Hummocks Trail before taking an eastward turn on the Boundary Trail to reach my end goal, the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Bear in mind the Observatory is closed until mid-May each year, but hikers are welcome to come on through and utilize the trail system.

I spoke with a friendly staffer from the U.S. Forest Service when I reached the observatory’s parking lot, who noted the extreme lack of snow at a place that normally has a few feet well into May. He and I chatted for a bit and he told me some good routes to take if I ever wanted to hike beyond the observatory. I will within a couple months and will post photos of it when I do.

All in all, the hike was a 12-mile round trip that climbed about 1,800 feet. I took the closed State Route 504 back, with the Forest Service staffer’s permission, which added 2 miles on the return trip. My feet were sore when it was over, but it was well worth it, as you’re about to see.

Here’s the activity summary from Strava:

Photos after the jump!

Why the concept of time scares me (and why it shouldn’t)

I am going to turn 30 this year, and I am supposed to enjoy it.

I returned to the Northwest this year, and I am supposed to enjoy that too.

In fact, I am enjoying the Northwest as much as I can. The scenery is gorgeous, the rain is refreshing and Mount St. Helens gives me an intense desire to drive to its base and run up to the crater rim.

But the scenery, as much as I love it, is not what brought me back here. The friends I made during the two years I lived here before banishing myself to the hinterlands of Missouri compelled me to come back, and the job I held before came available — blasting open the doors for my return.

I asked God to show me the way home from the Show-Me State, and He did. But the dynamic here is different now, even as people have been gracious in welcoming me home and doing the best they can to involve me in their lives.

Times and people change faster these days than they ever have in my life. My married friends have added to their families, and many of my unmarried friends have taken a giant step with that special someone that forces them to frantically plan how perfect their union is going to be.

I watch it all happen around me in fast-forward. When I think of my friendships and relationships at this time in my life, I see everyone else’s life moving rapidly as I just cheer them on from the sidelines. I’ve thrown a lot of rice too as a man and woman walk past me into a car and drive off into the sunset, by the way.

I’m going to bring some real talk here for a second, but this is not going to be long or drawn out, so here goes: In June 2011, I went through a breakup that affected me in a way I never thought it could. I’ve spent 2+ years since that day ensuring that I become a different (better?) person. There was no hope for reconciliation, and I had to be okay with that. Even after I moved on, the cold truth remained that you can’t be happy with someone else if you’re not happy with yourself.

So I grew. There was nothing I could do but grow. I prayed, studied the Bible, worked on relationships with the small circle of friends I made while in exile and I learned how to live by and with myself. I grew spiritually, and my perspective on servanthood and Christian life changed so much that I took it upon myself to simply want to encourage others in the faith and in their own lives.

But I’m not meant to be a cheerleader my whole life. I’m going to be 30 this year, and although my friends tell me I’m a good guy and all that (I appreciate it for sure), before too long I want to be the guy up there reciting wedding vows to a woman that cares as much about faith and the welfare of others as I do now. But I feel like I’m running out of time.

Why do I say that? Get out your pencils for some ‘rithmetic.

The average life expectancy for the American male is 77.6 years. I Googled that, so it has to be gospel. If I am 29 right now and my birthday is July 20, I have lived 10,693 days. Seventy-seven and six-tenths years is 28,343 days. Take the total number of days I have lived (10,693) and divide that by the number of days I’m expected to live (28,343) and you get 0.3772712andsoforth. Carry the decimal two numbers to the right, and voila — I have lived 37.7 percent of my total life expectancy.

Let me phrase it this way: I have lived 37.7 percent of my expected lifespan while seeing everyone advance around me. It’s like the game of Life where everyone keeps spinning a 10 and landing on spaces that make them rich, while I spin the number 1 and have to pay out my you-know-what.

That’s a real downer, but let’s all be real here: When you’re in the situation I’m in now, with a good job and a good location and good friends and STILL nothing to show for advancing in your personal life, it makes you wonder if you are doing something wrong.

Well, I’ve grown so much spiritually and put forth a great effort to consider others, pray for them and encourage them in their walk with Christ. I’m doing the small things right, which should be fulfilling — but it actually serves to make this situation more confounding, disheartening and frankly frustrating.

I continue to forge forward, but it feels like I go nowhere as time ticks away.

There’s that word again. Time. I see time as nothing but a cruel enemy that scares me like nothing else can.

Time is slow when you’re waiting for something great, but it accelerates beyond control when you’re actually enjoying it. Time continues to exert its control over the universe as it passes on, making everything but a distant memory while at the same time aging us, changing the environments and dynamics around us and reminding us that someday we will run out of it as it continues dictating the world six feet above us.

And as if that isn’t enough, it decays what remains of us.

Time is precious in the sense that we have so little of it. There are moments in my life — fragments of time itself — that I spend remembering the past 29 years and pinpointing specific memories that took place at a certain slot of time that I wish I could rewind to and erase or redo.

That’s another reason time is my nemesis. You never get any of it back. It ensures that everything that was ever created on this earth will end at some point.

So if the passage of time leads to death, maybe it’s death I’m scared of. I will readily admit that.

And what scares me more than death itself is dying alone. How horrible would it be to die never having truly loved? I don’t want to find out, and I certainly don’t want to be in my 77th year of existence, on my deathbed ruing what happened when I was 27.

Amid all these thoughts that continue to dance around in my mind, I place my hand on a Bible, open it and search for a relevant Scripture. Bingo, I found this in Matthew 10:28-31.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I read that again, and I feel like a fool to have even lost sight of the fact that the One who created time cares about me and my well-being. So why should I fear time or death when I follow the God who, if the Bible is to be believed, has a tremendous future for us in heaven that will never end?

Makes my fear of time seem kind of trivial, and now I feel like a fool to an extent. But these aren’t just wasted words; they prove a real struggle that affects a man like myself who gets a bit frantic sometimes when I know I can’t take control of everything I’d like to.

Maybe it is better leaving everything in God’s hands. He says to wait on him, and knowing how much I hate time, it’s just another example of why I have to cast aside my fears, anxieties and temporal concepts for a greater cause. In the end, it’s really not about me anyway, is it?

Legendary house music producer Frankie Knuckles has died

Tonight is a very sad evening at the Brewer Compound, as news of the death of legendary house music producer Frankie Knuckles at age 59 has been confirmed.

He is known as the “Godfather of House,” pioneering the house music sound in the 1970s in Chicago. His fingerprints are all over much of the music and rhythms I came to enjoy in my formative years, thus shaping my musical preferences.

It is a grand understatement to say that Frankie Knuckles had a profound influence on the dance music landscape in general, and on me as I first heard “The Whistle Song” as a young boy and thought it was unlike anything I had ever listened to before.

His music and influence will live in. Rest well, Frankie K.

A day trip to the Long Beach Peninsula

My friend Megan and I took a trip to Long Beach, Wash., yesterday. Here are some photos. Enjoy!

A tourist snaps a quick photo of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse over the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, March 23, 2014.

A tourist snaps a quick photo of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse over the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, March 22, 2014.

A beautiful, cloudless spring day opened up a view of the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye could see.

A beautiful, cloudless spring day opened up a view of the Pacific Ocean as far as the eye could see.

Tree branches frame -- and partially obscure the view of -- the ocean as seen through Dead Man's Cove at Cape Disappointment, Washington.

Tree branches frame — and partially obscure the view of — the ocean as seen through Dead Man’s Cove at Cape Disappointment, Washington.

A young boy dances in the sand at the edge of the Pacific Ocean as the sun begins to set in Long Beach, Wash. on March 22, 2014.

A young boy dances in the sand at the edge of the Pacific Ocean as the sun begins to set in Long Beach, Wash. on March 22, 2014.

Two people and their dogs walk along the beach at Long Beach, Wash. at sunset.

Two people and their dogs walk along the beach at Long Beach, Wash. at sunset.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge dominates the landscape over the Columbia River as it empties into Youngs Bay.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge dominates the landscape over the Columbia River as it empties into Youngs Bay.

Only the penitent man shall pass: A day at the Ape Cave upper trail

To enter Ape Cave, you descend a set of stairs into a hole in the ground that suddenly becomes pitch black.

To enter Ape Cave, you descend a set of stairs into a hole in the ground that suddenly becomes pitch black.

One of the more interesting geological features of the Pacific Northwest lies right in our backyard in southwest Washington state.

Ape Cave was extensively explored in the 1950s by a hiking club known as the Mount St. Helens Apes, hence the name. Now people come from just about everywhere to explore the 2.5 mile lava tube that is administered by the U.S. Forest Service, in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Today, I met up with a cheerful and friendly group of guys from Vancouver, Wash., who invited me out to enjoy a hike in the upper portion of the cave, known as the more difficult of the two portions. I had previously hiked the lower portion with my father and younger brother when I was much smaller, but had never been to the upper portion — so I jumped at the chance to go.

Anyone going to Ape Cave should do three major things: (1) wear boots, (2) dress warmly and (3) use a bright headlamp. You’ll need your hands to do some clambering up through several rock fields inside the cave.

Once we arrived, we walked up past the closed gate to the entrance to Ape Cave (pictured above), where we promptly received our first sign the hike was going to be a bit of a test.

The beginning of the Ape Cave upper trail indicates the hike is a bit difficult -- multiple scrambles up rocks await.

The beginning of the Ape Cave upper trail indicates the hike is a bit difficult — multiple scrambles up rocks await.

The inner portion of the cave is wet year round — after all, we live in the Pacific Northwest — so being mindful of where you place your footholds is key. The trail through the cave, about 1.3 miles or so in length, alternates between rock fields and smoother portions of a path.

The group heads down a rather tame portion of the upper trail.

The group heads down a rather tame portion of the upper trail.

The first half of the cave includes several rock fields that you will absolutely need a headlamp for help navigating. In this instance, a headlamp is better than a flashlight, because you’ll need both hands…

…especially when you come to a portion called “The Ladder.” Members of the group helped each other up, and I have no shame in admitting I took the longest simply because I had the longest legs of anyone there…it was tough to swing my right leg over a portion of the giant rock wall. The Ladder is the toughest part of the climb by far.

Only the penitent man shall pass, and thankfully, all six of us were able to easily kneel before the Lord.

Teamwork is crucial when it comes to an area known as "The Ladder." Very few footholds exist on a rather difficult rock wall that must be scaled to continue.

Teamwork is crucial when it comes to an area known as “The Ladder.” Very few footholds exist on a rather difficult rock wall that must be scaled to continue.

Once you’re through The Ladder, the trail continues to alternate between rock fields and smoother paths — but it narrows and the scenery becomes a bit interesting. The structure of the lava tube is incredible to see in person.

The way Ape Cave was formed is nothing short of amazing. What's not amazing is people defacing the rocks by carving their initials and names into them.

The way Ape Cave was formed is nothing short of amazing. What’s not amazing is people defacing the rocks by carving their initials and names into them.

Perfectly formed rock walls on each side of the trail are common throughout Ape Cave.

Perfectly formed rock walls on each side of the trail are common throughout Ape Cave.

More rocks and narrow passageways await.

More rocks and narrow passageways await.

Looking over a piece of rock that had fallen somewhat recently.

Looking over a piece of rock that had fallen somewhat recently.

Close-up shot of the rock seen throughout the lava tube.

Close-up shot of the rock seen throughout the lava tube.

The hike through the Ape Cave upper trail is very good exercise. For me, it was an equally intense workout for my upper body as well as my legs, owing to the fact I used my arms to provide stability as I navigated the rock fields.

We killed the trail rather quickly — I think I counted an hour and 30 minutes or so — and we encountered a makeshift stairway that takes you out to the open once again, leading to a trail that takes you back to the main parking lot.

Stairway to Heaven. Saint Peter awaits.

Stairway to Heaven. Saint Peter awaits.

Looking down the ladder that leads back to the surface.

Looking down the ladder that leads back to the surface.

We stopped for a few minutes to gnosh on some granola bars and drink some water, then we were headed back for the main parking lot. The hike above ground was impressive in its own right, offering views of a vast forestland that covers most of Skamania County.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is home to tall trees and overall beautiful scenery.

The Gifford Pinchot National Forest is home to tall trees and overall beautiful scenery.

Ape Cave is an incredibly awesome trip, one that I highly recommend. The lower trail is perfect for a family excursion, and the upper trail is best suited for more experienced hikers. It’s not only great exercise, but a great experience in one of the more unique geological features of our wonderful region.

If you go, the easiest way to get there this time of year is to take Interstate 5 to Woodland (exit 21), head east into Cougar using State Route 503 and its spur route — then continue following that road as it becomes Forest Road 90. Take a left on Forest Road 83, then a right on Forest Road 8303. Signs directing you to Ape Cave are plentiful.

Orion is on the hunt

The stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka shine brightly as part of Orion's belt, as seen from the north side of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport on Monday, March 10, 2014.

The stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka shine brightly as part of Orion’s belt, as seen from the north side of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport on Monday, March 10, 2014.

I am slowly beginning to figure out nighttime star photography, and tonight I thought I would try something a little bit different by venturing a couple miles from my neighborhood and shooting the stars along with light from around the area.

Once my shift ended at work this evening, I drove out to Airport Road just north of the Chehalis-Centralia Airport, a perfect spot situated between Chehalis and Centralia. Recent construction to the north has rendered this stretch of road unimportant for the time being, so I pulled off to the side and click-click-clicked a few photos.

The clouds were just drifting away. I felt it relevant to include them in my photos as a sort of symbol of one of the last giant rain systems of winter pushing its way out of Lewis County, giving way to bright skies and a greater view of the world above us.

For those wondering, I used my Canon Digital Rebel T2i and my Rokinon 14mm lens. Everything was manual: Exposure of f/2.8 and 20″ at 200 ISO. I didn’t have my tripod, so I improvised by jamming my wallet between the lens and the roof of my car, clicking the shutter and just watching as it gathered the exposure. Worked rather well.

An air of mystery at a Longview community landmark

Longview Community Church in Longview, Wash., is dimly illuminated on a dark, rainy evening on Saturday, March 8, 2014.

Longview Community Church in Longview, Wash., is dimly illuminated on a dark, rainy evening on Saturday, March 8, 2014.

I drove to Longview yesterday, and on the way home I shot a photo of one of my very favorite buildings, the Longview Community Church by Lake Sacajawea.

It is a very historic church with some wonderful architecture, and some of my favorite sounds are the hymns its belltower chimes out to the neighborhood every hour on the hour, publicly praising the Lord.

But the church is not well-lit at night, and on a rainy night it seemed to have a sort of mysterious ambiance to it. I think it looks even more so in black and white. What do you think?

On the death of snake-handling preacher Jamie Coots

This afternoon, I read about the death of Jamie Coots, a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher made famous by a cable TV show and pastor of a rural Kentucky congregation.

For those who do not know, Jamie Coots was bitten by a snake and died Saturday evening after refusing medical care, according to CNN.

Reactions across the Internet have varied — some ridicule the man and say he had it coming if he was messing around with snakes that long, others just laugh at the absurdity and still others just shake their heads.

(Before you continue, if you’re unfamiliar with snake handling, check out a pretty decent Wikipedia article that explains it a bit.)

I find no humor in the fact a snake-handling preacher died of a snakebite. In fact, my personal reaction was one of great sadness.

First and foremost, death is a very sobering thing. That is a God-breathed human being that has lived on this earth for a time, and now his time has ended. Mr. Coots has left behind a family who will likely grieve for a long time. That is a terrible, terrible thing and my heart goes out to them.

Secondly, and the discussion turns practical here — Mr. Coots died after refusing medical care. Medical professionals were available and on hand to help if they had the okay. They did not. Mr. Coots held on to a belief that God would bring him through, and he held on to it until he died. His death was needless, for all practical purposes.

Thirdly, the Christian faith requires a good deal of common sense. Snake-handling is essentially Russian roulette with a religious fervor, and at some point the bullet is going to fire by random chance. Jesus did not call on us to take chances with our lives to prove His power or grace. In this situation, nothing has been proved and everyone loses.

Fourth, and speaking of everyone losing, the wide circulation of this story across the Internet feeds a negative perception of Christianity as a whole. I know Mr. Coots pastored a somewhat small congregation and it’s obvious to many in the Christian faith that the snake-handling brand of Christianity is not representative of the faith as a whole. But it still “feeds the beast” if you will among nonbelievers, and I can assure you many atheists and non-Christians alike are having a field day with this story.

Fifth, I don’t really see snake-handling as an evangelistic tool. That sounds weird, but the Great Commission from Jesus is to go and make disciples of people in the world. I’m not sure that the death of a preacher who believed that a snake bite would not harm God’s anointed people will bring people to Christ — and I’d venture to guess there are some in his own church that have their own faith shaken from the incident.

And finally, the hits just keep on coming for Christians whose views are not represented by folks like Mr. Coots. It wasn’t long ago that young-earth creationist Ken Ham got absolutely blasted by thousands of people across the Internet, many of whom were Christians who are trying to find a way to reconcile their Creationist view with science. Ham did nobody any favors then, and this story isn’t doing Christianity at large any favors now. Nonbelievers — especially those who have made up their minds that there is no God — have been armed to the teeth recently with reasons to abhor the Christian faith, and it’s people within Christianity that have given them that ammunition. That is a hard pill for me to swallow.

Did Mr. Coots love Jesus? I think it’s pretty obvious from some footage taken of him that he did. Did he lead people to the Lord? It’s very plausible that he did. After all, his church wasn’t all about snake handling. It’s unfortunate, sad and needless that the practice caused the death of a preacher whose life could have continued on to essentially bring more people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

On a personal note, I tend to keep things a bit simple with my faith. My faith is grounded in a belief that Jesus Christ simply has a will for each and every one that believes in Him to preach the Gospel, choose self-denial over selfishness, make it to heaven and show others the way to get there too before you breathe your last bit of air.

The less extracurricular stuff, the better. I never liked snakes anyway.

Tour de Puget Island: A cycling excursion across one of Washington’s hidden gems

A gorgeous day made for a beautiful ride across one of the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest.

A gorgeous day made for a beautiful ride across one of the hidden gems of the Pacific Northwest.

Yesterday I took a day trip to one of the more charming and quiet places I’ve visited in recent memory.

Puget Island, Washington is home to about 800 people who all seem to enjoy a very calm lifestyle, away from the bustle of the city but close enough to populated areas that one can easily make the trip. Puget Island is located just south of Cathlamet, Washington and is home to scores of people of Scandinavian heritage who settled the island.

The island is located in a unique area where the Columbia River splits into two channels. Because of this, the only two ways onto the island by vehicle are via State Route 409 south from Cathlamet and over the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge, or by the county-owned ferry Wahkiakum, which shuttles people and their cars across the Columbia River’s south channel to and from Westport, Oregon.

I drove onto the island and parked my car just off the ferry terminal, where I stopped and chatted with an older woman who was walking her dog. She told me I would enjoy a bike ride across the island, especially around the areas that had some dairy farms on the island’s west side. She wouldn’t be wrong.

The starting point of my ride was the ferry terminal, at which point State Route 409 begins. Note the “Welcome to Washington” sign — this is as far south in this portion of Washington as one can go on land.

I attached my GoPro to my bicycle and began to ride the roads that traverse the island. Here are some still shots from the trip:

The beginning of my ride started at the southern terminus of State Route 409, at a ferry terminal.

The beginning of my ride started at the southern terminus of State Route 409, at a ferry terminal.

In the first few miles of my trip, I passed Heritage Bible Church, a historic chapel located on the west bank of Welcome Slough.

In the first few miles of my trip, I passed Heritage Bible Church, a historic chapel located on the west bank of Welcome Slough.

I passed pockets of evergreenery throughout the ride. The island is mostly flat, but home to some varied trees and shrubs.

I passed pockets of evergreenery throughout the ride. The island is mostly flat, but home to some varied trees and shrubs.

Puget Island's roads were wide open and easily rideable. Very little traffic travels to and from the island, and I had no trouble with cars passing at all.

Puget Island’s roads were wide open and easily rideable. Very little traffic travels to and from the island, and I had no trouble with cars passing at all.

Riding across the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge, built in 1939, was quite an experience. What a joy to see the sun in the distance, the river below and the hills of Oregon on the horizon!

Riding across the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge, built in 1939, was quite an experience. What a joy to see the sun in the distance, the river below and the hills of Oregon on the horizon!

Our Savior's Lutheran Church is located at the intersection of Welcome Slough Road and State Route 409. It is a wonderfully-designed building. Check out their website at http://www.oslcwa.org.

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church is located at the intersection of Welcome Slough Road and State Route 409. It is a wonderfully-designed building. Check out their website at http://www.oslcwa.org.

Back to the ferry terminal, the beginning and end of my ride. Thanks, Puget Island!

Back to the ferry terminal, the beginning and end of my ride. Thanks, Puget Island!

All told, I rode 27.2 miles across nearly every road on the island, including a trip over the Julia Butler Hansen Bridge for a bit of some incline training. Over the course of the ride, I was surprised at the number of cars — or lack thereof — that passed me on the left. My spirits were lifted by the drivers of the cars that passed in the opposite direction, as nearly every single person gave a friendly wave.

The scenery was gorgeous, and the weather was beautiful. Blue skies, hills with evergreen trees on the horizon and a historic community that one can tell takes visible pride in its heritage made for a very inspirational ride. The island is home to vacation houses, dairy farms and a small refuge for the endangered Columbian white-tailed deer.

Speaking of deer, I passed a few that were calmly grazing in people’s yards and walking along the road. They didn’t seem to be scared of me.

If you search the Internet for information about Puget Island, you’re not likely to find too much other than a few websites — and I get a feeling that might be alright with the fine folks that live there. I truly believe Puget Island is one of the Northwest’s hidden gems that lies just off the beaten path, as not many people who come from outside the area would deviate from State Route 409, which takes cars between the more well-traveled State Route 4 and the ferry.

Thanks, Puget Island, for a wonderful afternoon and a joyous excursion! I will be back to visit again soon.

The Chronicle, just before sunset

The sun illuminates from behind the main office of The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash., on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.

The sun illuminates from behind the main office of The Chronicle in Centralia, Wash., on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.

I took a test shot of sorts using the HDR feature on my Moto X phone today. Some people love the camera, others hate it — but I found it to work rather decently for what I wanted to do, and that was to see if I could get a usable shot of a building that was in essence blocking the sun.

Everything looks better in black and white, I think.