Wednesday, September 28, 2005

One year, two days.

I just looked at the calender and realized I sold my motorcycle one year and two days ago. She was a 1998 Yamaha Virago Special with a 1100cc engine, black on black detailing, the acceleration of a rail gun, and the handling characteristics of a large, drunken cow. I miss her so much!

I hadn't ridden her much after we got Miniwether. Misseswether quit her job to be a full-time mom and as the single breadwinner of the family we couldn't take the risk of me getting mangled, no matter how much fun was involved. :-(

My last big ride occurred back in February of 2004, right after we got word from China that we could adopt Miniwether. I figured it was going to be my last ride for a while so I wanted to make it a great one. It was 43F out when I left that morning on a 400 mile loop through East and Central Texas. After several hours of riding I pulled into a rest-stop frozen numb. As I huddled against the Virago's engine for warmth a guy stepped out of his mega RV and came over to talk. He couldn't understand why I'd want to ride around on something so (relatively) small. I just smiled and asked why he'd want to ride around in something so big. He laughed and took off. I stuck around for a while longer still sucking warmth out of my engine. Later I saw his RV on the road and blew by him with a wave and the speedometer needle pegged. I think he understood after that.

Alas, those days are past. Seeker's Fate is an awesome canoe, but I don't think she'd do 120 mph.

Adventure! Excitement! Unroasted-Bug-Filled Teeth!

The Last Hurricane Post

All that's left to do in the aftermath Fizzlecane Rita is to reorganize our bookcases. That can wait pretty much indefinately. I promised some pictures of Rita, but most of them, well, suck. I pulled out a few to give you a taste of what was going on.

By Thursday evening I-45 was packed and traffic was at a standstill. Lining the freeway were dozens of cars that had run out of gas or the owners were just too tired to go any farther. Houston mayor Bill White put out a call to asking the residents along the evacuation path to help the stranded motorists. I, Clark, Richard, and Richard's son Jordan filled up some water jugs, snatched up a box of popsicles, and grabbed all the gas we could and headed to the rescue.

People either had plenty of water or were completely out. Those that were out were pretty happy to see us show up with plenty of cold water. Gas was a bigger problem. Many people wanted it, but we only had 15 gallons. We had to be very picky about who we gave it too, limiting it just to families with very young or very old people. After giving away all the gas we tried siphoning more out of Clark's truck but an anti-siphon theft prevention device blocked us. This worried me some as I was planning on siphoning gas from our cars to run my Coleman duel-fuel camping stove for cooking after Rita passed. D'oh!
09-23-05_0005 Windy

The next day we set up a meeting with all our neighbors to see who still needed help, to find out who had a chainsaw or first aid training, and to make sure every household had a walkie-talkie so they could contact everyone else in case of an emergency. People who had been through hurricanes in the past shared their tips and experiences with hurricane newbies. Every family on our street for two blocks was there. After the meeting the men went up and down the street to help move heavy objects and board up windows. We live on the best street in the world!
IMG_7877 IMG_7878

A bit after the meeting a neighbor came running up to our house with the first emergency. He desperately needed cake mix!! His son was turning 9 the next day and they needed a birthday cake but all the stores were closed! Luckily Misseswether stepped in, calmed him down, and offered to bake a birthday cake. Apparently this guy didn't realize it was possible to bake a cake from scratch and couldn't understand why Misseswether could bake a cake but not give him the box of cake mix. It was pretty funny. Finally the neighbor staggered off to go lift heavy objects and Misseswether retreated to the kitchen. Unfortunately, that's when she discovered that I had packed up all her good cookbooks! She finally found a cake receipe in one of the many "junk" cookbooks I had picked up from my days as our head cook. Soon the yummy smell of cake batter filled the kitchen. The next problem arose with frosting. Misseswether had never made frosting before but kinda knew how to do it. She briefly considered calling my mom to ask how to make frosting but decided it would be too hard to explain to Mommawether why frosting was needed ten hours before a hurricane was to strike. In the end she found a receipe in another old cookbook. Once the cake was frosted Missewether carefully broke apart the few candy letters we had left over from previous birthday cakes and managed to spell out the son's name. Misseswether is awesome and the family was thunderstruck (um, maybe a bad choice of words considering the situation) when she showed up on their door holding a vanilla layer cake with buttercream frosting for them.

At that point night was falling and the storm was nearing. Luckily, it had changed paths somewhat and we knew we'd be on the "clean" side of Rita. Even though our saferoom was ready we decided just to sleep in our bed upstairs. I'm a very light sleeper so we figured if the storm got bad I'd wake up and move everyone to the saferoom (Miniwether had a nice little nest under the desk).

I slept the whole night through.

We were really lucky. Places just two miles away are still suffering blackouts, which are truely sucky when the temperature is over 100 F (I love Texas in the Fall). We learned a lot from this storm, the biggest lesson probably being "Don't Evacuate!". If you want a complete list of what I learned from Hurricane Rita check out my post over on the forum titled "What I learned from Hurricane Rita". You might also browse some of the other threads on that forum. There's a lot of useful information there. Sidenote, I go by the name "Blast" there. Please don't ask why.

Adventure! Excitement! Be Prepared!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

With the morning light...

There are twigs everywhere. Some house nearby have trees through their roofs, but we are fine. The power still flickers occasionally. Miniwether and I went for a walk earlier. She likes being in the wind and the rain.

Misseswether has started reassembling the house and is tossing stern looks my way. I guess I better get too woork.

Adventure! Excitement! Cleaning!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Yep, Redemption.

I'm dead tired. Spending two and a half days prepping for Hurricane Rita has been exhuasting. Now I hear on the news that it swung even farther east. We are expecting only 65 mph winds and maybe 10-20 inches of rain.

Thank God.

I'll write more and post a some pictures in the next few days. Right now I'm going to stand outside and let the wind cool me off. The sun is setting and Rita's storm clouds off in the east look awesome.

Adventure! Excitement! Not!!!

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Some time early this morning Rita made a sharp turn to the north. Predicted landfall is now to the east of us, which means we'll be on the "dry" side of the storm. We'll have strong winds out of the northeast to contend with, but luckily that's strongest, most window-free portion of our house. All in all, I think we'll be okay. The power may be out for a few days, but even that should be fixed quickly. All the power lines around here are underground, so they won't have to reattach lines to every house.

We are about five blocks from I-45, the main evacuation route heading north out of Houston. I couldn't sleep and so at 6am this morning I walked over there to check it out.

It looked like a scene from a horror/disaster movie. Eleven lanes of traffic were at a standstill in both directions as far as the eye could see. Lining the shoulders were dozens of cars that had ran out of gas, overheated, or broke down for some other reason.

It scared the living hell out of me.

I'm better now. The yard is clear, water is ready, food is ready, but I could really really really use a few sheet of plywood.

May the Force be with us.

Adventure! Excitement! 4 drops of bleach per gallon of water!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Well, that didn't work.

I think I have frostbite.

I just finished restacking two freezers. I figuring the power will go out for only 2-4 days, so I by planning our meals in advance I was able to optimize freezer space and cold retainability.

Of course, the question y'all are asking is "Why are you planning powerless meals if you are evacuating?".

A good question with an unfortunate answer. 800,000 other Houstonians are also evacuating. Progress is being measured in feet per hour. We are far enough inland where the only real danger are tornadoes and I rather face those in a house filled with 80+ gallons of water, food, and can openers rather than in a Honda Pilot filled with three cats and two upset ladies.

So anyway, we're going to hunker down and pray for the best. One prediction has Rita dropping down to a Cat 3 by the time she hits us. None of the predictions have Rita MISSING us. :-(

We still have two days to prepare and we've made excellent progress so far. The safe room is almost ready. We just need to figure out how to handel the cats' litter box. We have plenty of gas, food, water, cleaning supplies, bug spray, tarps, batteries, ammo, radios, flashlights, cylume lightsticks, and a deck of cards. We also live on the best block in Houston with the best neighbors a person could ever hope to have. We've all been working together to prepare. We're having a block meeting tomorrow night to sycronize walkie-talkies and work out a generator sharing schedule.

I'll keep posting as this progresses.

Adventure! Excitement! Hurricane-induced Frostbite!

The Plan

Have you ever walked through your home trying to decide what save? It's a pretty horrible feeling. I spent last night bagging up clothes and the such in hopes that even if we lose our roof at least my clothes will remain. Same with books, photo albums, and the such. What happens to Porthos, my stuffed cat? Hopefully we'll have room in the escape pod for him...

We are finding out our evacuation plan doesn't nearly touch all the stuff we should do to prepare for the coming storm. So, we are plodding through it anyway gathering, bagging, praying. There is fear here now. Little fears, like what will happen to all the house plants. Big fears, like what will happen to Miniwether's Chinese Birth Certificate which is currently in the hands of some low-level office worker at the Houston passport office? Giant fears, like what if the house goes?

I'm so tense I'm vibrating.

Current reports suggest that our house *should* be fine, maybe just some roof damage. Hopefully no windows will break and let the winds in. Miniwether doesn't understand why mommy and daddy are so tense. One the plus side, she's been to our friend's place in Austin where we will be taking refuge. She'll like that. When you are a two-year-old adventurer things like this are fun.

Adventure! Excitment! Controlled Panic!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


I swung by Walmart this morning to add to my stockpile of supplies. Hurricane Katrina pointed out that you can't have too much fresh water. Well, the water aisle was almost picked clean. There were no pint or liter sized bottles of water left, only a few gallons jugs, twelve of which ended up in my cart. I also added a gallon of unscented bleach for treating water and general sanitizing. A quick run through the camping aisle showed peg after empty peg where flashlights once hung. All were gone except for a few super-duper $20 models.

It seems like people are finally learning.

Hurricane Rita is currently whacking Key West and is predicted to hit west of Houston as a Cat 3 storm sometime between Friday night/Saturday morning. I'm not very worried though because when was the last time you heard a four-day-out weather prediction come true? That being said, I'm still getting ready for her. We have 60+ gallons of water stored away and Friday afternoon I'll be filling the bathtubs. We have plenty of food, tarps, radios, flashlights, gasoline, a battery-powered tv, and a ton of batteries. Hitting just to the west of Houston would be a worst-case scenerio as that would put the wettest, windiest part of the storm right on Houston. Our house is about 70 miles inland, so I'm not worried about flooding from the storm surge. Tropical Storm Allison dropped over 30 inches of rain on our neighborhood and though the streets flooded no water came into the house. Water isn't my fear. Wind, on the other hand, could be a problem especially in the form of tornadoes. No telling where those monsters could strike.

If it looks like it'll be a Cat 4 storm then we are bugging out. We already have our evacuation checklist made (good adventures have LOTS of checklists) and we can have everything ready in a hour. Over the years I've explored miles of backroads and now have a path that *should* let us avoid most of the refugee traffic.

I still need to fill the freezers with ice and make room in the garage for the canoe and patio furniture (not sure how!). I also need to prep my backup power system. After that it's just a matter of watching the skies and praying theclouds don't come...

Adventure! Excitement! 100 MPH Winds!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rodents and Rockets: A love story...

So, there we were. Two dads, three little girls, eight R.O.U.S's and not a walking stick among us. Luckily, we had some rockets.

Wait, let's start back a bit. Earlier this week Clark called me up with an idea for an adventure. He had found a park along Cypresswood that is filled with all sorts of interesting wildlife and he wanted to check it out closer. Sounded good to me. This was in the same ritzy neighborhood I had had the flaming canoe experience, so I was looking to return under somewhat more sane circumstances.

Heh heh heh. Yeah, "sane".

This nature park is somewhat overrun with ducks, pigeons, squirrels, Chinese Geese, regular geese, turtles and nutria (aka Rodents Of Unusual Size), all of whom had lost their fear of man. We thought this would be entertaining since we were bringing our daughters, Miniwether and the Clarkettes, along. We were thinking fresh air, daddy-daughter bonding, and perhaps some rocketry if the weather held. It started out quite tamely. Some swinging, some sliding, some bouncing on a bouncey thing. Then we decided to follow this path into the woods...

The pond was quite large and the bank we stood on was a root-tangled mass about three feet high. Below us some ducks swam about quacking and preening. Bread was tossed and quickly snatched up, the girls laughed while nibbling on apples.

Then the twelve-pound water rat showed up.

And then his family showed up.
He had a very big family.

Did I mention we had rockets? Unfortunately, they were harmless foam rubber rockets launched from a slingshot-type device. Mostly useless against R.O.U.S.'s. It was time for Plan B: bribery with food! Soon the rodents were happily munching away on bread, apples, and cauliflower and we made our escape from the Fire Swamp.

"Well, I'm not saying I'd like to build a summer home here, but the trees are actually quite lovely."

Oh, THOSE R.O.U.S.'s...

Plan B.

Escaping the Fire Swamp.

Well, we escaped. Enough said there. Of course, blocking our way out was a new challenge, geese. Many large, hissing, beady-eyed, killer geese.

Okay, maybe not killers, but they could certianly taking a painful nip at us. Miniwether was less than thrilled about this new threat.

Luckily, my years of Jedi training finally paid off. The weak-minded geese were no match for my formidable Jedi powers.

We finally made it to a nice clearing and the rockets came out. These things were so cool! The rockets were made of foam rubber and were launched 100 feet into the air with a surgical-tubing sling-shot-like device. They went up high and fast. They came down gently enough catch with one hand, assuming you had more coordination than a three-year old. Sidenote: the spongy nose cones absorb a nice amount of gasoline. Lighting it is a bit tricky...

Clark, the Clarkettes, and Miniwether out to launch.

After ten minutes of chasing rockets the girls were ready for a snack. Clark and I found a nice shaded spot for a snack, but Miniwether and the elder Clarkette found something even better. Truely the apple does not fall far from the tree. Adventure, exploration, and excitement calls them more strongly than Fig Newtons and apple juice.

It was a good day to be a dad.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

13.5 miles on the Lone Star Trail

Ah, Labor Day. A day to relax, kick back, and say goodbye to summer (outside of Texas anyway!). Or, if you are an adventurer it means getting up at 4:30am to go hiking, and we all know there's nothing quite as relaxing as a 13.5 mile hike through the woods. In this case, it was a stretch of the Lone Star Trail known as the Little Lake Creek loop. If you like beautiful pine trees, Spanish bayonet plants, and crab spiders, this is the trail for you.

I caught up with Clark at 5:30am and less than an hour later we were walking into the Sam Houston National Forest. Five minutes after that we were trying to figure out what to do about the really big German Shepard-ish dog standing on the path fifty feet ahead of us. It was too far away to poke with a stick, so we settled on waving our sticks an yelling. It decided we were large, fierce monsters and slunk away. Untagged dogs are becoming a real nuisance in the woods around here. Note to self, CCW!

Okay, time for another great tip from Merriwether: if you are hiking bring a hammock! Trust me, after walking for three hours spending thirty minutes gently swaying in a hammock eating gorp and drinking Gatorade is pure heaven. Clark and I picked up compact, nylon "Traveler's Hammocks" at Gander Mountain and they were probably the best $16 we'd spent on any of our gear. These fold up into a tiny pouch, were a snap to put up, and it held my 200+ lbs without flinching. We also discovered an extra benefit. They wicked away our sweat and quickly evaporated it, greatly cooling us down. SWEET! Dump your tent, give your camp chair away, and get a hammock.

It took us about eight hours to do the Little Lake Creek/Pole Creek loop, though we ended up hanging out in the hammocks several times. They were just too convienent and comfy! The trail was well marked most of the time with blazes every 100 ft or less. A few blazes were missing, but that just added to the fun. I had forgotten the map back in Clark's truck, but getting lost would have been hard to do. hiking straight towards any compass point would put us on a known road in under two hours. I may have forgotten the map, but I did have FOUR compasses on me. An adventurer knows, "One is none, two is one".

There are several permanent creeks along the way where drinking water can be obtained (be sure to treat it!). Mosquitoes were almost nonexistant, birds were everywhere including woodpeckers, as were spiders (and their friggin webs!). It was a great hike.

And now for the pictures.


Striking terror into wild dogs everywhere (hopefully)...

Kicking back on Labor Day.

I liked this tree.

Another cool tree.

Unnamed creek.

Off the beaten path.

Adventure! Excitement! Falling asleep in the woods!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Pretty Water

In light of all the destruction to the east of here (Thanks, Nagin!!) I decided to put up some pictures of pretty water. These shots were from Clark's and my latest trip down Spring Creek.

Under I-45
Here's where we launch Seeker's Fate for our occasional paddle after work.

Spring Creek
A shot upstream from the I-45 bridge. The flow rate at this time was close to 300 fps.

Spring Creek
Downstream from I-45.

Train bridge
Train bridge over Spring Creek.

Old Bridge
These are the pilings of an older train bridge beneth the current bridge. There's just barely enough room between pilings on the right side to slip a canoe through. It's a blast when you've lined up properly. Kinda wet if you don't...

When the water is high there are a number of navigable tributaries leading into Spring Creek. I find then all to be mysterious and beautiful.

Deeper into borderlands.

Moon Gate Falls. This is one of the most beautiful spots I know. It's silent except for the burbling falls, the water is crystal clear, and bottom pool is filled with edible fish.

Adventure! Excitement! Non-waste-filled Water!