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Santa Cruz Island

For our first full day in Southern California, we took a boat out to Santa Cruz Island – one of the five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. Santa Cruz is the largest island in the national park with 60600 acres, followed by Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. The following plot shows the division of the national park’s 249,000 acres.

Your Diagram TitleThe National Park ? Water: 125,252The National Park ? Land: 124,102Land ? Santa Cruz: 60,645Land ? Santa Rosa: 52,794Land ? San Miguel: 9,325Land ? Anacapa: 699Land ? Santa Barbara: 639The National Park: 249,354The National Park: 249,354Water: 125,252Water: 125,252Land: 124,102Land: 124,102San Miguel: 9,325San Miguel: 9,325Santa Rosa: 52,794Santa Rosa: 52,794Anacapa: 699Anacapa: 699Santa Cruz: 60,645Santa Cruz: 60,645Santa Barbara: 639Santa Barbara: 639

The 1.5 hour boat ride from Ventura Harbor to Santa Cruz Island was relatively uneventful although we did see a few common dolphins along the way. We reached Santa Cruz around 10:45am, disembarked, and received a safety briefing from a volunteer guide. One of the key insights was always keep your bag in sight as the foxes and ravens may often work together to unzip and steal any food inside. After completing the safety briefing, we proceeded to hike both the Navy Road and Del Norte Trails which was a 7.8 mi hike with 1575 ft of elevation gain. The GPS of that hike is shown below.

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One of the best moments of the hike is when we crossed paths with an island fox. The island fox is one of the smallest canids in the world. It is approximately the size of a house cat, which is about one third the size of a normal fox (i.e. the gray fox). Although it was listed as an endangered species in 2004, the island fox population has recovered in recent years due to several recovery efforts, which include reducing the number of golden eagles (a predator of the island fox) and re-establishing the bald eagle on the islands.

Santa Cruz Fox

The Del Norte Trail provided some great overlooks of the nearby Pacific Ocean. In the distance you can see the mountains of mainland California, which are approximately 30 miles away. The February weather was perfect for a hike – sunny with temperatures in the lower 70’s.

Santa Cruz Hike 1

At 3:30pm, we departed Santa Cruz and started the 1.5hr boat ride back to Ventura Harbor. On the ride back, we encountered a huge pod of common dolphins. The captain told us that the rule of thumb is for every dolphin you see on the surface, there are about 7 dolphins below the surface. Based on this rule of thumb, he estimated there were approximately 3000 common dolphins in this particular pod.

Huge Pod - Santa Cruz Return

The common dolphin is known to be very intelligent. There’s evidence that these dolphins can team to help one another. Here is an article describing how common dolphins formed a raft to keep a dying member of their pod afloat. There’s also reports of dolphins helping humans. I found this article from National Geographic particularly compelling. A pod of bottlenose dolphins (different from those photographed on our trip) led researchers to a suicidal girl floating miles away. QED: dolphin’s are awesome… Here’s a better picture showing about a dozen common dolphins surfacing at the same time on our boat trip back to the harbor.

Common Dolphins - Santa Cruz Return

We arrived back to Ventura Harbor around 5:30pm. We completed the day at Winchester’s Grill and Saloon. I had the tri-tip barbecue sandwich with grilled brussel sprouts and apple crumb cheesecake for dessert. The tri-tip barbecue sandwich was just ok – the meat was a little chewy and the barbecue tasted like something you would buy at the grocery store. The grilled brussel sprouts were great and the apple crumb cheesecake may have been the best thing I had on the entire vacation!

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Books Exercise Health and Fitness Science and Engineering Technical Trips

Grading my 2015 Resolutions

Although I missed the mark on many of the original resolutions, I’m proud to have accomplished some of my (what I consider) lofty goals I set for myself for 2015. I think I am most happy with sticking to the running resolution – enough to log 365 miles for the year. I am particularly proud as historically I have never enjoyed or been able to maintain an exercise regimen. I’m also proud to complete my five courses and over 52 books for the year. Of course, there are some outright failures such as those involving innovation. Without further ado, let’s see how I did on my resolutions:

  • Simplify B
    Due to two moves, I simplified quite a bit. I got rid of a lot of junk and sold off some items that I never use like my bass clarinet and mountain bike. I think I have been keeping the apartment relatively clean but I still need to keep pushing myself in this area.
  • Experiences B
    Looking back, I didn’t really keep track of the specific adventures I had over the past year. I am proud about two specific adventures though. First, I am glad I pushed myself to pick up scuba diving. This opened up a whole new world for me. Second, I had a great trip to Hawaii this summer. Great hikes, dives, and drives – I think Hawaii might be my favorite vacation I’ve ever taken.
  • Innovation F
    My New Year’s resolution to be more creative and innovative was focused on keeping an innovation notebook. I failed this resolution in the most horrific way possible. I did absolutely nothing. I’m not really frustrated because I am proud of my output at my job. Anyway, there’s no other way around it – this resolution gets an F.
  • Learning A
    • 5 online courses A
      I completed five classes online this year in various areas such as heterogeneous computing, project management, and astronomy. Since my original goal was to complete 5 courses, this resolution was accomplished!
    • Review 52 scientific articles B
      I originally intended this resolution to be a weekly review of a technical article; instead I ended up reviewing a bunch of papers early in 2015 for a paper I had to write. These were also mostly medical related papers. In retrospect, I should have attempted to review articles from a wider variety of topics. For these reasons, I give myself a B for this resolution
    • Read 30 books A
      I nailed this resolution. I ended up reading 55 books this year. Some of my favorites in no particular order were (1) River of Doubt by Candice Millard, (2) Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb, (3) The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato, and (4) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I also enjoyed quite a few of the Isaac Asimov books too.
  • Wellness C+
    • Run over 300 miles A
      I surprised myself on this resolution. I ended up running 365 miles this year. One mile for each day in the year. Most of my mileage came in the summer although I have been somewhat consistent with running in the fall and winter.
      Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 12.27.47 PMOh there was a mid-year resolution to do 10 push ups per day. Yeah… totally failed that one.
    • Nutrition D
      I pretty much failed this resolution in every conceivable way. I ate a ton of fast food this year and really did not focus at all on the quality of the food I was eating. The only reason I bumped my grade up from an F was the recent switch to dropping all sweetened drinks for the past month. Since November 26, I have been drinking only water – so that was enough to bump me from and F to a D.
  • Selflessness C
    I made some progress in this area but not nearly enough. I need to figure out how to be more effective for 2016.
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Oregon-Hawaii Trip Day 7

The last day of my vacation was spent in the Portland, OR area. I drove over to the western coast and grabbed a burger at Highway 101 Burger in Lincoln City. I then drove 30 minutes north to hike Hart’s Cove. A fellow hiker had mentioned Hart’s Cove to me when I did the Preserve Head Preserve trail on the first day of the vacation. This was a pretty easy 5 mile hike although the trail was pretty steep for the first half mile.

The end of the trail overlooks Hart’s Cove. Here’s the best picture I took from this area.

HartsCove//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js  I also snapped some photos of the various flowers and insects around the meadow near this overlook. These shots turned out pretty well. Harts Cove Moth Thing//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Lift Off

I arrived back to Portland that evening and simply relaxed for the last few hours of my vacation. Overall, the trip was definitely one of my favorites. The scuba diving definitely made up for the lack of hiking (due to a closed trail and an overgrown trail). Hawaii was beautiful and the access to such amazing wildlife is unequaled in all my other trips.

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Oregon-Hawaii Trip Day 6

This will be the shortest summary as I spent most of the day on a plane. My flight was at 1pm so I did not have much time to get into anything too serious for my last day. I ended up driving up and down the coast of Kona just to check out some of the remaining beaches I had not visited yet.

For most of the flight, I continued to read The Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb. Even though I haven’t finished, it is a great read and helped pass the 6 hours crammed into coach. I arrived in Portland after 9pm

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Oregon-Hawaii Trip Day 5

I arrived back at the marina around 8am to do another two dives. After listening to most of the same instructions from last night, our dive boat departed the bay. On the way out, we saw another boat returning with a huge fish onboard. Although I could only see the tail, one of the dive guides said it was a huge marlin – so huge that the boat had to drag the tail off the back of the boat as it would not fit on the deck. After exiting the bay, we came across a pod of spinner dolphins. I captured some video of the dolphins as they swam next to the boat, which is included toward the bottom of this post. There were a few baby dolphins that were maybe 3-4 feet in length that would jump and spin out of the water. They seemed to be enjoying life. The captain also spotted a large tiger shark in the area but I never saw it.

We continued to our dive named Suck Em Up, which was named for a lava tube that can suck the diver upwards toward the surface if the current was sweeping into the shore. When the dive guide first told me we were going though a lava tube, I worried that I wouldn’t handle it well as the thought of not having the surface above me seems weird but I was very comfortable in the lava tube. Here’s a video of my group going through the lava tube.

The dive profile and temperature are shown in the following plot. Notice how warm the water was at even the deepest sections (74 feet at my deepest spot). I also was in the water for 57 minutes which was also a record for me (although I broke that again in the next dive).

dive12After arriving back on the boat, we were treated to animal crackers, pretzels, watermelon, and water by the dive company (Kona Honu Divers). During our surface interval, the captain took the boat to the next dive site named Naia Cove. As we were suiting up, the captain spotted a large tiger shark under the water but again I never saw it. It definitely made me a little nervous but I jumped in the water anyway. Our dive guide took us to a lava tube. Just prior to entering the lava tube, he gave the sign for shark. I promptly gave the sign for I shat my wetsuit (just kidding, there is no such sign). As we entered the lava tube, I got a few glancing shots of the white tipped reef shark. You can see these shots in the video below starting at around 1:30.

For the remainder of the dive, we swam around the corals and I tried to get some video of the different fish and eel that were around. I think my favorite fish were the Moorish Idol and the Ornate Butterflyfish. Here’s the depth and temperature profiles for the dive.

dive13

At the conclusion of the dive around 1pm, we returned to the marina and I started driving around the island looking for photo opportunities. As I was navigating around the island, I saw a marker for a green beach on the Google Maps app. When I arrived at the parking lot, a local told me that I needed a four wheel drive to drive the remaining 3 miles or he would drive me down there for $15. I decided to pay the money as I was wearing flip-flops and a 6 mile hike may be pretty tough in flip-flops. After waiting for about 15 minutes (he wouldn’t drive just one person down as it wasn’t worth it), I decided to go ahead an walk as I feared I may be the last person to show up for the day and I didn’t want to miss the beach if this were true. So I ended up hiking the 3 miles to the beach in flip flops. This is how the hike looked.

Green Beach 04

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsWhen I finally got to the beach, I had pretty much the whole place to myself. The following is a panorama of the beach and surrounding ocean. You can see how the sand does have some shade of green due to the minerals, although it isn’t an obvious green. Green Beach 03 

I got back to the car just after sunset and drove a half hour to the southern most point in the United States – South Point Park. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take any good photos but it was nice to check this off the list. Now I have to get to the northern most point in the US. //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

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Oregon-Hawaii Trip Day 3

On Monday, I had planned to spend most of the day hiking a long and steep trail at Waimanu Valley. The trail was 16 miles long and had over 7200 feet of elevation gain so it was going to be draining and take most of the day. I took off before sunset to arrive early at the trailhead on the other side of the island. When I arrived there, a sign announced the trail was closed. No explanation was given. I decided to hike the first portion to the beach as I could see surfers down there. The narrow road to the beach had a 25% average grade, which is crazy steep and I didn’t try to do it in my rental car. It was another 0.5 miles at the bottom of the hill to the beach.

After hiking along the beach, I figured out why the trail was closed. Due to the large amounts of rain the island had been receiving over the past week, a large river was pouring into the ocean and was pretty much impossible to get past. Even if I could get across it, there was likely to be more rain in the afternoon meaning I could be stranded on the wrong side of the river if my timing was poor. I decided to change my plans and headed back to the car to explore other areas of the island. On the way back, I crossed the path of some wild horses. I read that there ancestors were tame horses that survived a tsunami that wiped out the nearby valley in the 40s. I was able to get pretty close to them and snap a picture.

Wild Horses 01

After the grueling hike back to the care (really steep), I drove along the east side of the island toward the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Along the way, I saw a sign indicated a scenic drive so I turned down that road. I stopped at one of the pulloffs on this road, hiked a few minutes to the shore, and snapped this photo.
East Coast 01

I eventually made my way to Hilo before heading up to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Before it started to rain, I was able to take a few pictures of an active volcano. Unfortunately, you can only see the crater and smoke. It smelled faintly of sulfur, although not to the same degree as Yellowstone. You could occasionally hear rocks crashing together from within the crater, indicating something dramatic was happening in there.
Volcano 04

After walking around the park, sometimes in the rain, I returned to the car and drove to the southeastern shore via the Chain of Craters road. As I approached the coast, the rain stopped and the sunshine appeared. The views from the end of the road were awesome. I think I got my best shot from the trip from this area.
Volcano 03

After exploring the area a little more, I headed back to the hotel for the night.

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Oregon-Hawaii Trip Day 2

After departing Portland, OR at 7am, I arrived in Kona, Hawaii at 1pm local time. After getting my rental car and dropping some stuff off at the hotel room, I drove a couple of hours to the Pololu Overlook near the northern tip of the island. I drove through some strong rain showers along the way but the weather was only overcast at the overlook. Once arriving at the parking lot, I hiked the trail down to the black sand and rocky beach. Here’s a view from the trail to the beach.

Pololu Valley 03

//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.jsThis wasn’t really a swimming beach although there were a few surfers leaving when I arrived. The waves were breaking hard and there were signs warning of dangerous rip currents. Plus the beach was often rocky – not the best for laying out.
Pololu Valley 02

I explored around the beach and then walked along a stream running down from the mountains. Here’s a photo looking from the stream back into the mountains. There are some cows grazing in the back of the meadow. I stayed around the area until about dusk and then drove back to the hotel and called it a day.
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Dives 8 and 9: The Tower

Last Saturday, I returned to the Chesapeake Light Tower for another two dives. Unlike the previous trip, the waters were both cold and murky. Fortunately, the top 10-15 feet of water had the worst visibility but the water cleared up significantly at the deeper depths. The currents were also stronger which meant I had to continuously kick to be sure I wasn’t being push away from the tower. I didn’t feel like I was really exerting myself but it was different from my previous dives.

Here’s a video of some moments from the trip. The first fish is called a sea robin or gurnard. I was really confused when I first saw it. The creature had fins like a fish but it also had these little claws, so I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. The second creature is a common spider crab. There are also schools of a silver fish with yellow tail – I have not been able to identify those yet online. I’m sure it is so common that websites don’t even bother mentioning that type of fish. There’s also a barracuda at around 1:15 in the video.

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Dives 6 and 7: The Tower

Today, I completed my 6th and 7th dives (total count) at a local dive to the Chesapeake Light Tower, also called The Tower. These were my first dives as a certified open water scuba diver (no instructor) and my first dives in saltwater. I’ve been on boats in rivers in lakes, but this was also my first boat trip on the ocean. Even though the seas were calm, I took Dramamine last night and again this morning to avoid getting sea sick. I have never had any type of motion sickness but I thought I would be extra careful.

For my sixth dive, my maximum depth was 46 feet with a total dive time of 47 minutes. The following shows the dive profile. Notice the step up on the ascent? That’s called a safety stop at approximately 15 feet below the surface for 3 minutes. My dive computer tracks this for me so once I start ascending and reach 15 feet, the computer starts a countdown from 3 minutes. This gives my body a chance to slowly release some of the nitrogen that has been absorbed in my blood and tissues at the greater depths reached earlier in the dive.   The water was also pretty warm too – 80F at the surface and maybe 72F at 45 feet.

Dive06

Also saw some interesting wildlife on this dive. I pulled a few clips from the GoPro showing a constellation of starfish (brilliant, that’s the correct group name for starfish), a highly camouflaged flounder, and a barracuda (ooh, barracuda).

Once we arrived at the boat, we had a mandatory surface interval of one hour (the amount of time you must remain at the surface before diving again). After eating some granola bars and drinking some more water, we started our second dive for the day and my seventh dive overall. The depth profile is shown below. The max depth was 46 feet and the dive time was 35 minutes. Both me and my dive buddy had plenty of air remaining but the four other divers had returned to the boat and so we went back just in case we missed a signal to return or there was a problem with one of the other divers. Turns out they just stopped diving early.

Dive7Here’s some more wildlife we observed while on this particular dive: a barracuda, a jellyfish, fighting crabs, and a northern puffer fish.

And the highlight of the trip for me was getting to swim in a school of Atlantic spadefish. The video doesn’t do it justice – it was surreal.

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Day 6: Winthrop to Seattle

The day started with a drive to the Northern Cascades National Park. After about 30 minutes, we reached the boundary of the park. The following overlook was located just off Highway 20. I believe the jagged mountain is Early Winter Spires South

NorthCascadesOverlook
Overlook of Highway 20

Continuing east on Highway 20 took us to the center of the North Cascades National Park – specifically Lake Shannon and the Skagit River. The following photo was taken near a campsite between these two bodies of water.

NorthCascadesLake
Lake Shannon

We continued on to the main hike for the day. Following a single-lane road for 23 miles, we arrived at the Cascade Pass trailhead parking lot. Unfortunately, the weather at this elevation was quite poor – foggy and drizzling. In fact, we heard thunder once as we were ascending the mountain. Fortunately, this was the only time we heard thunder otherwise we would have returned to the trailhead before reaching the treeline.

We reached the Cascade Pass after ascending 1500 feet. At this point, I thought the chance of getting any good photos was lost. The fog was so dense you could only really see maybe 20 feet in any direction. I was also soaked and chilled to the bone. My motivation for continuing was (1) generate my own warmth and (2) increase the important GPS metrics (elevation gain and distance). We continued to our max elevation of 6826 feet. At this point, we took a quick break to eat lunch (Powerbar and Gatorade). At this point, I asked Russ to take my picture and commented to that this would be my only photo from the hike – my tone dripping with disappointment. Here’s that photo:

GarretInFog
The Foggy Hike up Sahale Peak

Shortly after turning around and heading downhill, we started to see some land through the fog. I was thrilled to see a 1000 feet ahead of us, instead of the 20 feet visibility typical on our ascent. Here’s a picture shortly after the fog started to clear.

CloudsStartToClear
Clouds Start To Clear

At this point, I was ecstatic but the clouds continued to clear even more showing the landscape around us. It was simply amazing to see the massive peaks and deep valleys around us, since these had been hidden in the fog for the last couple of hours. I got some amazing photos as we descended in the clearing weather.

Cascade Pass
The View without Fog

DoubtfulLake
Cascades and Doubtful Lake

CascadePass3
The Sahale Trail

Cascade Pass 4
Overlook from Sahale Trail

Sahale
Trail to Sahale Peak

Eventually, I put the camera away and concentrated on my descent down the mountain. The GPS track for the hike is shown below.

Here is the hike profile.

Final GPS Stats:

  • Distance: 10.25 miles
  • Maximum Elevation: 6799 feet
  • Minimum Elevation: 3538 feet
  • Elevation Gain: 3202 feet