Whales at Moss Landing

There’s been loads of humpback whales in Monterey Bay this summer and Darlene and I finally had a chance to go on a whale-watching tour by kayak out of Moss Landing this past Sunday with Dave of Venture Quest Kayaks.  Thanks once again, Dave!  We had a great time and encountered numerous humpback whales diving and feeding together, once even coming up between our kayaks, as well as saw plenty of others off in various directions, blowing, diving and even breaching in the distance.  After a snack break back at the boat launch, we headed in to the Elkhorn Slough with the aid of some handheld kayak sails.

In addition to all the whales, we also saw plenty of other wildlife: lots of harbor seals, sea lions, otters, egg yolk jellyfish, starfish, porpoises, pelicans, gulls, terns, sandpipers, cormorants and even an egret.  A couple of people saw a mola mola pass under, but we missed that. D’oh!

However, our kayak was boarded in the slough by a sea otter “patrol” – apparently inspecting us for goodies… or contraband?  (Check out the video below.)

We had so much fun on Sunday that we decided to sign up to come back the very next morning. On Monday, the entire bay was incredibly calm but we really had to work to find any whales. We had to paddle out nearly three miles into the bay to find them, but find them we did! Or perhaps they found us…

A short video montage of our two days of kayaking (4.3 minutes, 70 MB)

Click through for the full gallery of images from both days:

  

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Mission Peak at Night

Last week Darlene and I had intended to climb Mission Peak for the full “harvest moon” but other things got in the way two days in a row, but we did eventually get a chance to hike up. The hike is a three-mile, 2000 ft. ascent and provides long views of the bay and surrounding communities all the way to the top.

Unfortunately, the air wasn’t too clear this week – smog and likely smoke from the dozen wildfires around the state: so a very deep red sunset and moonrise.

 

Given that there’s a 10 pm curfew and the moon was already rising too late, we had to head back down before the moon could get high enough to light up our way.  So it was a headlamp hike rather than a moonlight hike.

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Riding Lake Tahoe Trails

Darlene and I went up to Lake Tahoe for a couple days of mountain biking midweek last week.  We did a bit of Sawtooth Ridge near Truckee after driving up on Wednesday – these are some nice wandering trails overlooking the Truckee River and highway 89 – and chipmunks everywhere!

On Thursday we went for a full day’s ride centered around the awesome views of the Tahoe Flume Trail, overlooking Lake Tahoe.  Here’s a two-minute video montage from the ride:

Tahoe Rim and Flume Trails

Richard fell sick and wasn’t able to join us so we caught the shuttle up to Tahoe Meadows (near Mt. Rose).  Our route started with the Tahoe Rim Trail heading south, then catching the Red House Flume Trail running clockwise, then back up the Sunflower Hill Trail, round Marlette Lake until finally getting to enjoy the Flume Trail proper.  Sweet and long 25-mile day with lots of breaks to enjoy the views and even snag a geocache along the way.

Click through for the full gallery:

  

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Coyotes in the Yard

I often see or hear coyotes near my house but yesterday I happened to catch these two come snooping up the driveway into my front yard, presumably looking for mice and rabbits… and kitties. (See that, Pan and Hera?  You better be good or the coyotes will get you!!)

Coyotes in the Yard (80 seconds, 24 MB)

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Big Basin Camping

Darlene and I joined Laura, Rachel and Sanna for two nights of camping in Big Basin State Park (in the Santa Cruz mountains) earlier this week (Monday-Wednesday).  The creek was nearly dry due to the drought but we enjoyed some great hikes in wonderful weather, several successful geocaching finds and an overabundance of yummy food, including shish kebabs and brats over the campfire.  Thankfully there were practically no mosquitoes (nice change from our backpacking here in May) but we did have to fend off frequent forays by the numerous, brazen raccoons all around the campgrounds.  One of which snagged our buns as we were getting things ready for our brat fest!  The nerve!

Click through for the full gallery:

  

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Backpacking the Lost Coast

Darlene and I joined Abhi, Komo and Anjali on a backpacking trip along part of California’s “Lost Coast”, led by Mike through the Outdoor Adventure Club.  The “Lost Coast” is a remote and undeveloped stretch of coastline in northern California, north of Fort Bragg and south of Eureka.  We hiked the northern section from Mattole Beach down to Black Sands Beach (near Shelter Cove) over three days, August 9th-11th.  Due to the steep coastal terrain, you’re often hiking the beach – several long sections of which are impassable during high tide and so you need to plan around the tide tables.

Click on through for my gallery of pictures and videos, including some from Darlene, Abhi and Mike:

    map

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“A Life More Extraordinary”

My sister-in-law, Michele, started a blog recently about her adventures with my brother, Glenn, and their success at turning around their health and lifestyle and getting to do more of what they want to be able to do.

Michele has always been really great at writing very entertaining stories and it shows here too!  Check it out, it’s both fun and inspirational: A Life More Extraordinary

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Robot in the House

For years I’ve dismissed those little semi-autonomous, robotic sucking machines.  It sounded like they weren’t really worth the trouble since they couldn’t really run for very long, pick up much debris in their tiny compartments, deal with furniture without missing spots or getting stuck or trapped. With all the need to supervise, it sounded easier and quicker to do it yourself.  But then recently I stumbled on a review of a new model and was intrigued by the improvements and the possibility of a little machine to help keep up on all that cat hair my two furry friends are always producing.

 A fun video showing my new little helper in action (1.5 minutes, 24 MB)

It’s the BotVac 80/85 from Neato.  Unlike its more well-known competitor (iRobot Roomba), this robotic vacuum cleaner does not just follow a random walk around the room, bumping haphazardly from one obstacle to the next.  The BotVac uses laser sensors to map out the shape of each room and build up a floor plan as it goes about its business.  When it encounters obstacles like tables and chairs, it will actually work to navigate around each leg, vacuuming under and around as much as it can.  It’s pretty amazing (and mesmerizing) to watch it navigate around the house, room after room, following its little internal rule sets to deal with various obstacles as they come up.

  • When the BotVac gets low on charge, it will actually backtrack through the map it built to return to its charging base and dock itself for recharging, even off in another room.  And when it has finished recharging it will return by itself to where it left off and continue the job!
  • It’s got touch sensors in front to help it maneuver tightly to objects and walls.
  • It has a sensor underneath to keep it from running off a cliff (or stairs).
  • It comes with some magnetic strips that you can lay down on the floor to cordon off rooms or areas that you don’t want it to intrude on.  (It’s much simpler than the battery-operated “fence” posts that the iRobot apparently uses.)
  • It has a little edge-cleaning brush on the right side.  (Thus it will always approach walls and make its rounds in a right-handed path.)
  • It’s squared off in front so that it can get into corners much better than fully round designs like the Roomba.
  • It has a larger-than-typical dust bin and it’s very easy to remove and empty out – without even having to turn over the unit.  It makes sense to also vacuum out the dust filter though.
  • You can set a schedule for when it should run but this doesn’t seem practical to me as I would first want to clear stuff off the floor and make sure there aren’t any cat messes that it would get into – and make worse.  (Hera often has stomach issues.)

It’s not quite a replacement for a full-size vacuum cleaner but it certainly does an amazing job considering that you can just start it up and let it go while you go about doing other things.  (You also do need a normal vacuum cleaner to clear out its filter.)  It’s pretty cool though to come back and find everything freshly vacuumed!  And it’s not really that loud (certainly much less than a full size vacuum) and it’s not too annoying to have it going about it’s business while you do other things.

One limitation with the BotVac is that at about four inches tall, it can’t fit under some furniture, particularly couches.  (The Roomba design has a lower profile and can fit under more furniture.)  Also, the BotVac can get itself stuck at times and need help.  This happens sometimes with furniture that offers just enough clearance for it to partially slip under but not quite enough for it to fit entirely under.  Often this goes fine and it will just work its way around, but other times it’ll get itself wedged in and need to be pulled out.  When it does get stuck or trapped, it will cut power to its vacuum and call for help by chiming.  It’ll then sit and wait quietly for a while before chiming now and again.

Here’s a much more mixed review of the BotVac that comes out in favor of the Roomba.  Some more reviews: BotVac 85 vs. Roomba 880 (favors the BotVac) and iRobot Roomba vs Neato Botvac (favors neither).

Note that the BotVac 85 is really just the same model as the 80 but it comes with two extra filters included.   (This wasn’t obvious to me.)  Both the 80 and 85 come with the two different brush types.

Now… what should I name him?

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Twelve Days of Croatia

Darlene and I recently enjoyed a twelve day trip to Croatia, booked through REI Adventures.  (June 27th to July 9th)

Our trip started in Zagreb and we worked our way south through Dalmatia and down to Dubrovnik, with a side excursion through Bosnia-Herzegovina.  As an active, multi-sport trip, we enjoyed lots of hiking, biking, river and sea kayaking, as well as just seeing and exploring various sites along the way.

Here’s a video montage I put together covering much of our trip:

I’ve organized the pictures into four different galleries:

Days 1 -4:  Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Zrmanja and Krupa Rivers, and Novigrad

  

Days 5-7:  Paklenica National Park, Vrgada Island, Skradin, Krka National Park, and Trogir

  

Days 8-9:  Split, Trebižat River, Mostar, and Ston

  

Days 9-12:  Dubrovnik, Zaton and the Elafiti Islands

  

 

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Pop-Up Game of Thrones

Glenn and Michele sent me this Game of Thrones pop-up book for my birthday… pretty cool!  Thanks guys!!  Click through to see more of the pop-up book:

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And, as it happens, Darlene and I will be off to Croatia for my birthday in a few days, which also happens to be the filming locations for several Game of Thrones locales, like King’s Landing (aka Dubrovnik):

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