Finishing the series

I read the Harry Potter books one by one as they came out. I watched the movies for a while. But I stopped. They just … lost the appeal I guess.

I’ve read and re-read the Hobbit many times. It’s a great book and I still enjoy reading it. I watched Peter Jackson’s first two movies and never bothered with the third. I just couldn’t be interested.

When I discovered Suzanne Collin’s three book series ‘The Hunger Games’, I literally read all three of them over the course of a week. Perhaps it was faster. I wasn’t particularly excited about the movies, but I went to the first one anyway.

It was better than I expected. It was good enough that when Chasing Fire came out, I watched it too. I wasn’t quite as impressed, but like the book, the movie is a bridge. It gets the reader (or viewer) from the end of the first book into the beginning of the third. So I didn’t fault the directing, the casting, or the production. It was after all a reflection of the source.

I was disappointed to read that the third movie was split in two. I immediately think about The Hobbit and worry. I need not have. Mockingbird (part 1) was excellent, with good pacing and a nasty cliffhanger that left me wanting more. I never felt it went over-long.

Which leads my to tonight. Unlike Harry Potter, unlike The Hobbit, I finished watching the full series tonight. Part two of Mockingbird picks up where part 1 left off and beautifully executes the book (at least as I remember it). The sappiness is there (and appropriate). The strength of character is there (and appropriate). The acting is good, the directing is tight. The movie was not too long, nor too short.

I left happy. It’s not a happy movie, but it ends on an uplifting note. Even the most broken of people can survive. Perhaps even thrive. Just like the book.

It’s nice to see an adaptation that stays true to the book and isn’t hopelessly bogged down in the details. Peter Craig, Danny Strong, and Collins herself deserve credit for pulling it off.

West Highland Way Support, redux

I feel a little odd writing this now.

Just over three months ago, I was in Scotland supporting my dear friend Scott in his attempt to complete the West Highland Way Race. Next to me was his wife Annie.

It was easy enough to write about my experience in Scotland before the race. It was also easy enough to write about the tense last few hours before the start.

But now that it’s over? It’s been really hard to write what it meant to me. The experience is not something that can be merely chronicled. There’s real emotion, and how I felt is the important part. What happened is merely fact.

When I read Scott’s writeup, my task here became even harder.

Still. It’s been three months. So with a dram of Laphroaig (10 years, original cask strength) at my side, let’s get to it.

It’s important to remember that all three of us had been here before. In 2012, in the face of torrential rain, Scott ran off into the darkness at Milngavie. 67 miles later, the race was lost. We hoped and expected this time to be different.

My written journal has one entry of note:

June 21, 2015; Fort William, Scotland


Today was going to be a day to forget, or a day of celebration.

Fortunately, celebration is justified. This morning, shortly after the day began, the West Highland Way Race ended, at least for Scott. 44 of 188 people had already finished and another 110 would cross the line behind him.

Celebration takes many forms. This one started with a lumpy twin mattress and dreams—dreams that don’t matter and that I no longer remember. Celebration continued with a simple breakfast—nothing special, but hot and comforting.

The awards ceremony ends with the 1st place runner handing the last place finisher his (or her) goblet—”everybody that finishes this race is a winner.”

Clearly, everyone here believes it. This is no participation prize—you don’t get anything for trying. But to finish is not to try, it is to do.

Scott did. And like 2012, I will treasure the memories of this trip, forever. Tomorrow, the vacation part of this vacation returns. But for a few more hours, the celebration continues—the work is done.

So yeah. Scott finished.

The thing is, for Annie and I, the time we spend with Scott was pretty short. Aside from an extended recovery at the base of the Devil’s Staircase, we never saw him for more than a few minutes before he was off again. In comparison, we spent 24 hours in each other’s company. 24 hours with very little sleep.

Would I say our job was hard? No. But it was difficult. We didn’t have the physical demands that Scott did, but we also didn’t have any escape from the emotional demands. We had no place to hide; we had a job to do.

In retrospect, it was fine. Annie and I both got pretty stressed at times, and we both came back from it.

In the end, we made a pretty damned good team. I got us where we needed to be and Annie got Scott where he needed to go. And I think we both enjoyed our time on the road.

In a way, I’m happy that Scott didn’t finish in 2012. For if he had, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience the 2015 race. I have fond memories of both, but already they are merging together… the highs of 2015 are mellowing the lows of 2012.

In Scott’s writeup, he wrote

And Aaron, who joined us on the 2012 attempt too, was surprisingly easy to convince to join again — but turns out he was most interested in coming back for the whisky.

That’s not really true. I admit, I was excited for the parts of the trip that weren’t the race. But the thing is, as I sip this whisky that I purchased as part of this great adventure… Every time I sip a whisky from Scotland, I can’t help but remember these trips. These memories, they are a part of my association with Scotland now. They are part of the joy of whisky now. Every dram is now a manifestation of my memories; they are a reminder of where I’ve been and who I spent that time with.

Who would have thought that a small dose of golden liquid could hold so much?


I purchased my MG in the spring of 2000, with about 37000 miles on the odometer. Since then, I’ve driven it about 54000 miles in 15 years. Those years have included many fond memories—a trip to California along the coast, a trip home to a class reunion that involved the jewels of Washington’s highway system, a memorable sun-burned April trip into northeastern Oregon, and others.

During those 15 years, there have been close encounters with deer, but only one where it was really close. That event was a draw—the car lost a mirror, and the deer was probably pretty bruised, but neither party got seriously hurt.

The streak of no harm to either side ended today. As I was driving along Green Hollow Road, a fawn jumped out in front of me. I was unable to stop in time and hit it at about 45 mph, sending it flying. I was able to slow down so that it landed in the road in front of me instead of on the car, but the damage to the fawn was too great. I am not a person that cares for guns, but I would have been happy to have had one on me today. Fortunately, it didn’t suffer for long.

The car and I came away without a scratch to show for it—just the lingering smell of burnt rubber and the wild rush of adrenaline.

The last hours

Race PackingJune 19th. Approximately 2:30 PM.
Premier Inn, Milngavie/Bearsden.

10.5 hours to the start. About an hour until Annie and I go to Glasgow to fetch the car.

I think we’re all getting nervous and we’re doing what we can to face that. Extra sleep helped. As the clock relentlessly continues to tick away the minutes, the butterflies grow more insistent.

We’ve repacked everything we have. At this point, it’s a waiting game. Wait for the time to get the car. Wait for the car to get the food.

Wait for 1 AM to arrive.

Hopefully, this quiet time doesn’t allow us to overthink—truthfully, I expect it won’t. We’ve got a plan. It’s a good plan, and we all just have to execute the plan.

And enjoy it, of course. I have confidence; we’ve done (most) of this before.

Soon, the quest for the car begins. The first domino falls. Let the cascade begin.


Note: This post is transcribed from a written journal entry, dated June 6, 2015.


One week and two days to go. I have already packed, unpacked, packed, and unpacked again.

Last time, the lead up was exciting, but not eventful. We planned, we executed, we travelled. Three people, together.

This time is both easier (because we’ve done it before) and harder (because we are traveling separately).

So it goes. The giddiness and worry of a big trip still hits hard.

The prep is different though. The cat leaves me tomorrow. The last day of work is Friday. There’s no extra pre-holiday time. But then again, there is. Stef is coming to Pullman. I miss her glowing smile and fiery persona.

Our relationship is complicated and I anticipate the reunion just as I anticipate the return to Scotland. We’ll eat, we’ll ride. We’ll surely talk and watch some football. Just like old times.

And just like old times, it ends with a trip out of town. Nobody ever claimed this shit was easy.

In the mean time, my “prep” has consisted of sitting on a rock next to a river, listening to crickets chirp and waves lap against the shore. Corey and Cheryl are just visible half a mile away upstream. It’s a shame my camera is at home.

It’s not ben a bad day so far. Lazy Saturday mornings kissed by the June sun are tough to beat. Top it off with an evening ride and a run tomorrow and I have a full weekend. Not bad for this loner in life.

Not bad at all.

Near Disaster

The plan:

  1. Leave Pullman at 1 PM PDT, arriving at Spokane International Airport at 2:30.
  2. Get on a plane, fly to Seattle International Airport at 4:30, arriving at 5:30
  3. Get on a plane, fly to London Heathrow Airport at 7:15 (PDT), arriving at 12:30 PM (BST)
  4. Get on a plane, fly to Glasgow International Airport at 4:15 PM, arriving at 5:35 PM.
  5. Get in a Taxi, go to Dumbarton Central train station.
  6. Get on a train at Dumbarton Central at 6:48 PM, arriving in Oban around 8:30 PM.

All told, it’s about 14 hours of travel, 8 hours of sitting around, and 8 hours of time shifts. I knew the taxi would be a tight one, which is why I took the train starting from Dumbarton rather than Glasgow. The two stations are about equidistant from the Airport, but Dumbarton is about 25 minutes “down the line”, so it gave me a larger window.

What I didn’t count on was the Airbus going tech 3 minutes before we boarded. Instead of a 4:15 departure, we were looking at 5 PM. At best.

Still, I didn’t have a choice. It’s not like I could stay in Heathrow. I’d either make it, or I’d make do.

The plane took off at 5. It landed at 6:15. By 6:30, I was in the taxi and moving north. At 6:51, I arrived.

Too late. The train had gone.

No big deal. I’ll buy a new ticket for the morning, request a refund from ScotRail that I may or may not get back, and find a place to stay. There’s a cheap-but-good hotel a mile from the station. Easy walk. It’s filled with runners and dog walkers, so I’m not uncomfortable dragging a bag behind me as I go.

Finally, at 7:30 PM, I arrive at the Premier inn just north of Dumbarton, tired, sweaty, and slightly cranky. “What’s your reservation?” asked the desk clerk. “I don’t have one, I just need a room.” I replied.

It was here that my slight crankiness turned to dread. “Oh. We don’t have any rooms, and nobody else does either.” Fuck.

I’m directed to the restaurant next door to borrow the wifi so I can start to search for my room. I have no phone, and the wifi isn’t working. Fuck.

A man sees me visually worried. I explain the situation. He starts to use his phone to see what he can find. No luck. The wifi drops out for him too. We migrate back to the lobby of the Premier Inn. I ask the clerk if he could search other properties again. No luck.

But the wifi works. Yes! I bring up No available beds. I bring up, which redirects to There’s rooms. 2 of them. In Glasgow. For £250-£500 per night. Fuck!

And it is here that the fear really starts to work on me. I’m visualizing a night in the street. I think to myself “I didn’t pack for living in the fucking street!” And it is at this point that I am rescued. The man that had been trying to help me asks the clerk a simple question. “Hey, I’ve got an unused bed in my room. Can he use that?” “… Yes, of course.” replied the clerk.


The man is David, a rail engineer working for a small Cardiff based firm and is up in Scotland on a Ministry of Defense contract. He was helpful, friendly, and rescued me in my hour of need. For that I will be forever grateful.

A very special holiday

Over the years, I’ve had a few extraordinary holidays. I don’t mean extraordinary in that they were exceptional, but simply that they went beyond the ordinary.

There’s nothing wrong with my ordinary winter holiday—I get the opportunity to visit with family and get the chance to get away from it all and just enjoy life. But those occasional years that involve more are pretty special.

This year was a wedding. At 37, I don’t attend many weddings any more—my friends are for the most part already wedded. When Scott and Annie invited me, there was absolutely no way I was going to miss it.

As a result, I found myself sitting on a Horizon turboprop, drinking Portland Brewing’s Holiday Porter at 4 PM on December 18th, flying south to Boise.

No bad luck here One of the great things about second weddings is the informality of them. The ceremony itself is often low-key, with a focus on the personal connection between the bride, the groom, and the friends and family that surround them. I love that.

I wrote the morning after:

This was without a doubt the most stress free wedding I’ve ever attended.

Even when reality didn’t quite go to plan, it was fine. There was a mixup on timing, so the room wasn’t ready. We just had a beer and let it go. No fuss. No stress.



That was just the ceremony. The after-party just kicked it up a notch. Thirteeen of us wandered the wet streets of Boise in full wedding regalia. Every “dive bar” Annie used to frequent was a target. As the night wore on, the size of the party shrunk, so by 1 AM, the 13 had been reduced to 5. Not that it was an issue, when happiness rules, time doesn’t really matter.

Though… it did make for a rather long next day, which started early with breakfast, but contained two naps between 10 and 4, two strong coffees. I can’t party like I’m 29 any more. Or perhaps I can, but the next day is pretty costly.

Thank you Annie. Thank you Scott. Thank you Boise.

On Migration

Elevation 2753I got my first interchangeable lens camera in 2009, at the advice of a good friend. It was a Nikon. The D40 served me well and continues to serve my sister-in-law equally well. It’s a very friendly DSLR, but it has it’s limitations—not in picture quality, but rather in advanced functionality. Once you master the D40, it’s a great little camera… but when you discover its limitations, they can be really limiting.

So it wasn’t long after I got the D40 that I moved to the D7000. The 7K was a delight. It was fast. It took lots and lots of pictures on a single battery. The pictures it took were crisp, vibrant, had little noise, and the camera was a lot of fun to use.

For a few years.

However, for the past two years, I’ve found myself leaving the trusty Nikon in the closet. I wanted to have the camera, but it was just too bulky. Too heavy. Too inconvenient. It was time for a change.

So once again, Steve pushed me in the right direction. For the past few weeks, I’ve been carrying a camera again. It doesn’t have the Nikon name on the front of it. The lenses are not Nikkor either.

I’m now carrying an Olympus. It’s not as easy to handle as the Nikon was. It doesn’t have quite the capacity of the Nikon. There’s some really nice features of the Nikon that I miss.

On the other hand, I’m taking pictures. The camera isn’t too heavy to carry around. The lenses are small and fit in pockets. I have yet to master the quirks of the OM-D EM-5, but I was comfortable taking photos at a wedding this past weekend. I was never comfortable doing that with my Nikon; the sheer bulk of it made me feel like a photographer—an outsider. The diminutive Olympus is much more personal.

The noise is a little higher and the focus isn’t as steady. But the images are nice and my workflow hasn’t really changed despite the new equipment.

And I have a whole new world of lenses to desire. It’s different. Not simply better, nor is it really worse. Just different.

  • The Olympus is harder to manipulate (the controls are not as easy to fiddle), and yet is easier to manipulate (the advanced control panel and Electronic View Finder make less common changes trivial)
  • I miss my 70-200f/2.8 VR Nikkor, but the the M.Zuiko 12-40mm (equivalent to a Nikkor 18-60 f/2.8 on the D7000) has been rather a lot of fun too.
  • I don’t miss the shoulder aches at all. And I love that all my lenses fit in pockets.
  • The photos seem to be a little noisier, just a little. The color is great and over time I think I’ll learn how to get more out of the RAW photos I’m taking.
  • I find myself a little nervous about taking many photos without transferring them off the SD card. I’ve never had a card failure, but I loved having the redundant cards in the Nikon and miss that. Similarly, I haven’t run the battery dead mid-shoot, but have a fear that I will; I never worried about the life of my Nikon battery, even in the highlands of Scotland.
  • I don’t really miss the extremely good focus performance of the Nikon. The Olympus seems to be “good enough” for what I do. That said, I’m not trying to photograph moving birds or sports.

Mockingjay (part 1)

I saw a movie tonight. I haven’t been going to the movies a lot in recent months—this is the third movie that I’ve watched this year.

Until last Wednesday, I had forgotten that it was even due to arrive, but fortunately during the weekly gathering that is beer chasers, the subject came up and I found myself sitting in a dark room with a half dozen or so friends watching the silver screen.

Visually it was excellent. The CG was never clearly CG and stayed true to life (something that I cannot say is true of The Hobbit). The movies actually improve  on the books because they are not told in the same first person perspective—something that I’ve read in multiple reviews and was mentioned by Stacie and I wholeheartedly agree with.

I am not one that normally appreciates a single book being split into multiple movies—it reeks of crass commercialism and often poor execution of film. It didn’t work in Harry Potter, it absolutely isn’t working for the Hobbit, and my concern was that it also wouldn’t work here. That fear is unfounded. The movie found a natural break in the plotline of Mockingjay and used it masterfully. I never felt as if the movie was dragging along and I can’t say there’s a scene that I ever felt was in place for use as “filler.” The cruel world portrayed in the book is very much alive in film, and the closing scenes make it clear that a year from now, the end of the series will end with a bang.

The Hunger Games are more about character than action. Jennifer Lawrence leads a cast that portray a set character just as strong and just as flawed as I imagined when I read the books a few years ago. This one is worth seeing, no question.

It’s calling me

IA summer's day spent less than a day in the Glen Coe, as part of the long and grueling West Highland Way Race. At times I was the driver, but when Scott arrived at the Glencoe Ski Area, it was clear that my services would be required for other, more important needs. I was to join him on the Way itself.

I didn’t carry my Nikon, so the pictures I have are of the upper part of the valley, not the stunning lower valley that is unique in the world.

Even so, the place has utterly imprinted on my mind. Each and every time I see it on the silver screen, I think to myself “Glencoe. A82.” and my heart yearns to return. Each time I see it, I just know it is Glencoe. I haven’t been mistaken yet—there’s something truly special about that valley and that tiny strip of tarmac at the bottom that bisects it.

My experience was cold and wet, with low hanging clouds sputtering rain and drizzle for many hours. It was 9°C at 3 in the afternoon. And yet, I desperately want to spend more time staring at those hills in awe. I desperately want to again climb the Devils’ staircase and look back to the southeast.

But for now I wait. The next trip will come when it comes. Like all good things, there’s no sense in rushing it.