About Me

An avid traveler I have had the good fortune to have spent my career in the travel and vacation industry. From Bali to Copenhagen and all points between is where I have been or intend to go. This blog however is specific to the Western half of the United States as I explore this part of the world.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Hiking Las Vegas' Big Kahuna, Mt. Charleston Peak

I made it, 8.5 miles up and 4,190 feet of altitude gain,

Mt. Charleston is the 8th most prominent mountain in the United States with 8,259 feet of prominence with the peak reaching 11,918 feet.  I approached from the South Loop Trail starting at just under 8,000 feet.  I had been preparing for this hike solo, committed to complete it before moving to the D.C Metro area, planned my Saturday and got up to the trail head about 9:00am.  After finding parking and gearing up I was on the trail around 9:15.  The initial part of the South loop is enjoyable with some moderately steep areas and several switchbacks.  It is at the halfway point that you reach about 10,000 feet and the rest of the hike to the peak never dips below this.

Don't miss the little things.

For fuel I brought several cliffs bars, a couple tins of sardines and a hostess cherry pie as the symbolic cherry on top, only to be devoured upon reaching the peak.  For motivation, I brought my will and an Iphone with over 4,000 songs.

At about 3/4 of the way to the peak I hit a minor wall where hiking seemed to be transitioning to trudging with small cracks forming in my determination to reach the top.  But as with any goal you must keep pushing through to achieve it and with a little mental determination trickery and a switch from shuffle to a more motivational mix I pushed through, all the while with a small voice in the back of my head asking, "I think I have enough fuel to get to the top but enough to return in a timely manner?"

Not quite to the half way point

After the half way point to the peak I saw only a handful of hikers... one from Tennessee in Vegas for an IT conference sitting exhausted on a fallen tree, another whom I had seen many times before jogging the entire loop as he does every weekend. Two soldiers from Nellis AFB running the trail, listening to MP3 players and singing at the top of their lungs and finally an older triathlete who looked a bit like Ted Kazinski, but with a much friendlier demeanor.

Exactly half way to peak.  This is Griffith Peak, behind me is the way to Charleston.
As I reached the base of the final summit, I came across a plane wreck that I had heard about but had no idea of what to expect.  Apparently the twin engine prop plane crashed in the 70's and because of the altitude, etc the wreckage was left alone. A bit of an eerie sight.

70's plane crash near the peak.
The crash also signaled the final clime to the summit which would be difficult considering the altitude, steepness and the fatigue I felt from the journey so far.  It didn't help that an unexpected and strong chilly wind was blowing across the peak from the Pahrump side, and the one thing I forgot... a wind breaker... not much good in the car trunk.

My destination the larger bump to the left of the ascending path.
I finally reached the summit just before 5 pm, a little longer than I would have liked to take to reach it but with goal realized I was happy to mark my record of accomplishment in the summit log and enjoy my Hostess Cherry Pie!

Summit log books kept in old steel ammunition cases to protect from some crazy weather.
How sweet it is!  I reached the summit and am about to enjoy the cherry on top!
A view from almost 12,000 feet, where it is said on a clear day you can see 300 miles in all directions.
The picture above shows me in the dugout built to protect hikers from heavy crosswinds. After spending about 20 minutes at the peak it was time to head back... upon completion the entire hike would be roughly 17 miles round trip.  I was happy to start my decent and hoping I had enough gas to overcome the long trail back.
On the way down.
It began to get dark about 3/4 of the way down but fortunately, while I forgot my windbreaker, I did not forget my headlamp.  By the time I got to my car I was running on fumes and had just emptied my camelback.  After a hot shower I slept soundly having accomplished my goal and thoroughly worn myself out.  If you are planing on making this hike, and it is rated strenuous or a 4 out of 5 make sure you are in good shape and have prepared yourself for the elevation. Bring plenty of water and food and have a great time.  I certainly did.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hikes around Mt. Charleston and the all important Apres-hike!

Me on top of Cathedral Rock

It is interesting that when arriving in a new area I have always been driven to explore.  Then there is the settled in period where my drive to explore the area immediately around me fades and I begin to look outward for new adventures in neighboring states and countries to fulfill my need for new experiences and knowledge.  This month I have arrived at the end stages of living in my current town of Las Vegas where, as the realization that I will be moving far away hits, my urge to get in everything I can before leaving kicks in.  A travelers version of a "bucket list" as it were.  Restaurants I haven't tried or been back to in some time, a photographic exploration of the good, bad and ugly of Las Vegas, hiking the several peaks accessible to the public and the many other things that cross my mind.  At the forefront if they are important and attainable, back into the aether if fleeting or unrealistic.

Hiking to a major peak in the Mt. Charleston area was one of the items on my traveler's bucket list.  I am admittedly in okay shape and continue to work on bettering myself as I come to the realization that people I know in my age group are beginning to suffer the consequences of physical neglect or abuse of their person.  I would much rather suffer the mild pain of prevention than the intense, expensive and lasting pain of consequences.  So why not go from 0 to a 9.5 mile, 3500 foot elevation hike on a nice Sunday afternoon all with the help of meetup.com and Hiking Las Vegas.

As a long time member of Meetup.com (free) I was browsing the various hiking groups for my area and landed upon Hiking Las Vegas and the 52 Peak Club.  With 1,220 members and regular outings scheduled throughout the week it looked like a competent and committed group.  On a Saturday evening I joined and grabbed the last spot on a 20 person hike to Griffith Peak at an elevation of just over 11,000 feet.  Arriving at a park and ride at 7:00am the following morning I met a congenial group of hikers that quickly organized and split up into "green" car pooling groups considerate to other hikers and the limited parking at the south loop trail head that leads to both Griffith and Charleston peaks.

We arrived at 7:40 and already the lot was nearly full.  With my Camelback on and my Merrell barefoot run trail glove shoes that weigh less than 9oz each I was off... and needless to say I was not leader of the pack.  While not attuned to this type of elevated hike, nor in excellent shape, I am also not a quitter and I was determined to reach the peak.  With this in mind I also wore my heart monitor so that I could maintain an aerobic and sometimes anaerobic heart rate without pushing into maximum or beyond which can easily be done on this hike.  Approaching maximum is not effective in increasing cardiovascular fitness and can present dangers.  So, push my pace, make it to the top and keep the engine below redline was my strategy and it paid off.

Me in the green with the Hiking Las Vegas group on the summit of Griffith Peak
It was very satisfying to reach the peak and place my note in the summit logbook with the many others.  There is something magical about being at the summit of something.  Be it standing on the roof of your house, a step ladder in your kitchen or on top of an 11,000 foot peak it lifts not only your perspective but your perception as well... even the crushingly mundane and familiar is presented in a different light and allows you to see something anew or live in the moment as your kitchen, neighborhood or city moves from everyday scenery to something that calls for your attention.

You start to notice all the interesting things that surround your everyday life while living in the moment...

... And after communing with nature, hiking till you nearly drop while getting to know your trail mates and accomplishing something together, a comfortable place to rest your backside and have a bite to eat and a drink is welcome.  Just past the trail head is the Mt. Charleston Lodge with excellent views of Kyle Canyon from both outside and inside eating areas.  After a long hike there is nothing better than a medium rare buffalo or elk burger and a cold pint served with a smile by barkeeps Dragon or Moses at the best Apres-hike on the mountain.

Moses on the left, Dragon in the right.

Monday, May 07, 2012

After spending several years in the West, I will be moving back East to Northern Virginia as my wife is launching a Sit Means Sit Dog Training franchise in Fairfax, Virginia.  As a Fairfax High and Old Dominion University alumni I am excited to return to my old stomping grounds though I cannot imagine how much things have changed since I moved away from Fairfax in 1988.  My wife is very excited to help families and individuals have better experiences with their dogs.  We have owned several dogs and have 3 now... two American Cocker Spaniels (Jazz and Koko) and one Yellow Lab (Chance).  As dog owners we have gone through the process many of our clients will inevitably go through before contacting us... trying pet store brand obedience, treat and clicker brand obedience, do it yourself, etc.  It is amazing how families will change their routines around undesirable behavior because they haven't discovered the right solution.  Sit Means Sit is the right solution.

Before my wife became a Sit Means Sit Master Certified Trainer, we had tried all sorts of programs and techniques and at best they were moderately effective.  With Sit Means Sit, the results are nearly immediate, long lasting and transferable to other family members creating hope, happiness and empowerment in the family unit.  It was the Las Vegas Police Department that originally referred us to Sit Means Sit and we are glad they did.  Fairfax, VA... here we come to bring harmony to every dog and dog owner.

Join us on
Fairfax Sit Means Sit Dog Training

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Road Trip to Door County, WI with the dawgs.

Driving through East Central Utah

As August 2011 came to a close I was once again on my way up to Sister Bay in Door County Wisconsin to spend much needed vacation time at Madsengaard our family farm.  For the first time that I can remember I drove from Las Vegas to Sister Bay so that I could bring our Cocker Spaniels Jazz and Koko.  During the hot summer months in Las Vegas you cant fly with your dogs in cargo and since they cannot fit under the seat flying was a no go.

Pit Stop in Colorado on the Colorado River

I am not a straight through type driver.  While my daughter Lisa has no problem driving 25 hours straight, even when I was her age that was not an option.  Me, I am more the 8-10 hour driver, but now that most highways in the west are 65-75 MPH it you can cover more ground in that time.  And, because I generally drive at speed limit +8-10 I average about 79 MPH for the trip, according to my trip computer and that is county gas and hotel stops.

East Utah heading toward Colorado

When planning road trips I like to match my stopping points with interesting locations or at least semi-interesting locations that I have never been to before.  Which in the case of some stops are quickly moved to the uninteresting places list.  I decided that I would drive the longest length on the first day with decreasing legs thereafter.  I decided that my first leg would be from Las Vegas to Denver, CO then to Omaha, NE, then to Sun Prairie, WI (near Madison) to stay with Angela, Brad and my granddaughter Alynna for a couple of days meeting my wife and youngest Lisa there.  I would stay for the weekend and head off to Sister Bay the following Monday to get a head start on work that needed to be done on the farm.

Jazz, "are we there yet?"

One thing about having dogs with you on a road trip is finding decent, dog friendly hotels to accommodate us.  Some have policies of non refundable deposits, some dog fees and some both.  However there are some hotels that require neither and I discovered all of this on the petvacations.com website. 

In Iowa, huge blade being delivered to one of many wind farms.

Now if I am staying in a location for an extended period either business or for vacation and need a hotel, I like nicer accommodations... i.e. Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, etc.  When road tripping I look for simple and clean and a good price as it is simply a stop over, not a temporary home.  Petvacation.com helped with several good tips about traveling with pets and educated me well on different hotel policies concerning pets.  I found the most welcoming and widespread brand to be La Quinta Inns and Suites.  No deposit, no extra fees and good pricing.  I had stayed in La Quinta before and found them to be a nice, clean and comfortable value in hotels.  Of course wanting to maximize savings, once I researched the La Quinta's that I wished to stay in I used my Dream Vacation Network Membership to book the hotel stays.  I booked at the La Quinta, Denver Airport, which was quite nice and relatively new.  I also booked at the La Quinta North Omaha which while clean was not a purpose built La Quinta and showed some wear and tear.  But booking with DVN I saved roughly $20 total on two nights... almost half a tank of premium gas for my Infiniti M35X, which by the way is an awesome road trip car.

So, after packing the car, harnessing up the dogs in the back seat I hit the road...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mary Jane Falls Hike, Mount Charleston, Las Vegas, NV


Saturday it was overcast in Las Vegas and I decided a perfect time to drive up to Mount Charleston with the dogs for hike.  Mt. Charleston is the local Las Vegas resident's escape from the heat in the summer among other things.  Only a 40 minute drive from my house I can go from 2800 feet and 110 degree weather to nearly 9,000 feet and 75 degree weather and from a martian like landscape to landscape of evergreen and aspen forests, lazy meadows and towering cliffs and in the case of Saturday's hike about 62 degrees with occasional showers.  Perfect.

To get to Mary Jane Falls you simply take 95 North out of Las Vegas and turn left on 157, also known as Kyle Canyon Road.  You follow Kyle Canyon to a split where the road veers into a left hand u curve or continues straight.  Go straight onto what is Echo Rd and when you come to a split, pavement right, gravel left, go up the gravel road until you reach a parking area with facilities.  Park there as this is the head of the Mary Jane Falls Trail.  It starts off mostly fine and large gravel, transitioning to dirt and rock with a long straight away and then several switchbacks and finally one last straight away.

This hike was an opportunity for me to forgo my big hiking boots and try out a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves, a barefoot trail shoe that I recently purchased.  I brought my big boots with me as backup in case barefoot hiking didn't work for me but they weren't needed.  Wow these shoes were comfortable and lightweight.  It almost felt like I was hiking up the trail in my bare feet and my calves were a lot more involved in the hike without the restriction big boots sometimes have on full foot extension. 

So I had my barefoot running and hiking shoes and my Cockers Jazz and Koko had the big bare feet that this breed has and off we went.

Jazz and Koko anxious to get started.
It took about one hour to reach the falls from the head of the trail and that was with water breaks for myself and the dogs.  The first half was nice and gradual, the switchbacks were not so bad and the final climb was probably the steepest.  But you know you are close when you hit the final switchback at the cliff face and can begin to hear the water fall and feel the cool moisture cascading into the canyon.

For hikes in the west I always have my camelback with me so that I make sure I remain hydrated and have extra water for the dogs beyond their own water bottle and travel dish.  I also packed a protein bar and two white peaches that seemed extra tasty and juicy upon reaching the summit. 

From the dry and dusty aroma of Vegas to the peat and evergreen scent that greets you at altitude, Mt. Charleston is truly a welcome and close by escape.  The views are amazing and the trail has a good amount of happy and sociable people getting a bit of fresh air.  I had thought about having the dogs off the leash but after hiking the first few hundred yards it was evident that about every other group had dogs with them and I wanted to avoid any potential problems, most especially on the narrower parts of the trail.

Mary Jane Falls
The falls at the end were a nice treat, still running at a decent volume even for August and I could still see snow tucked away in different nooks and crevices within the cliffs.  Beat the August heat and make your way up to Mount Charleston.  Even if you aren't a hiker, a picnic or lunch at the Mt. Charleston Inn are well worth the trip.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bali, Indonesia: Walk, Ride or Drive... that is the question.

Early Morning in Seminyak on Jalan Kayu Aya
The first thing you should know about Bali is that the roads through towns and cities and even highways are relatively narrow and in questionable condition.  Often times there is only room for one way traffic, though somehow these narrow lanes manage to support two way traffic even if that means using a sidewalk or grass.

I am more the adventurous type and found the easiest way to get around is on a scooter or motorcycle.  After my first day I was prepared to ride up into the mountains but when no less than 7 people told me I was crazy to do so I was convinced.  Their primary concern was that many people have become victims of large (for Bali) transport trucks flying up and down the inner highways.  Though after experiencing those same roads in a car, it wasn't nearly as scary as it was made out to be.

Me getting around near Nusa Dua (can't escape the golden arches)
Adventure aside, if you can ride, this is the best way to get around Bali.  Flying half way around to world for business, fun or both to wait in traffic is not cool.  Think LA in some areas.  With a motorcycle you are through the traffic pretty easily.  Maneuvering between cars is not so bad when they are stopped or moving at 5 kph.

Also, if you decide to ride around Bali, carry cash.  While there are a decent amount of ATM's, enough vendors don't take plastic to make carrying cash necessary.  With the exchange rate, even if you are carrying a Balinese fortune it doesn't really translate into that much in US dollars.  Motorcycles and Scooters can be rented for roughly $30-$50 (30,000 to 50,000 rupiah) per week which is a killer deal.  You can rent 150cc Scooters up to 250cc motorcycles.  I recall reading an article around the same time about motorcycles in India having very manly names like Talon and Lion and Bali isn't different in this respect.  The hot motorcycle during the time I was there was the Honda Tiger (250) and it may still be today.  You won't find anything bigger than this to rent because they aren't allowed to be imported.  I did spot a Harley or Ninja now and again but after inquiring they are apparently black market or were imported as parts and rebuilt in Bali which is apparently a loophole in the law.
When cruising around Bali you will eventually need gas and there are two types of stations.  The more traditional gas station and the street vendor.  The few actual gas stations that I used were very nice.  They reminded me of the early days of auto transport in the United States.  The stations I saw were all well done, very clean and each pump had a smartly uniformed attendant standing almost at attention next to each pump, all lined up in the same holding position ready to serve. 

Notice the attendant at each pump
The other, more common place to get gas was with street vendors.  The street vendors can be found at intersections around the various towns and they look much like hot dog vendors with a cart and sometimes umbrella. The primary difference here is that the cart or stand is filled with liter bottles of fuel and the liter bottle container of choice is the standard Absolut Vodka bottle.  Ride up, hand over a few rupiah and enjoy full service where they open the cap, insert funnel and strainer and pour the gas, close the cap and wipe any spillage.  In some of my more lengthy explorations these vendors were life savers as my fuel needle dipped toward empty while I was in the middle on nowhere.  And thank you also to Google Maps which was very helpful on my Blackberry in determining where I was.

Full Service
The motor scooter is the primary mode of transportation for the Balinese and it fills the role of sole transport, economy vehicle, cool ride, family transport, off road vehicle and finally work vehicle.  I was at first amazed at the sheer number of motor scooters on the road.  I have watched scenes in movies or documentaries that showed this type of congestion and density of bikes but never have I been in the middle of it.  Beyond that, the versatility of use is amazing.  It was common to see entire nuclear families on a single scooter in the order of child, parent, child, parent all wearing helmets. 

Who needs a 4-door?

And then there were the labor crews that managed somehow to fit all of their tools and equipment on their scooters.

Where there's a will, there's a way.
There is so much to see in Bali straddled on a two wheeler that you wont see staying near a resort or taking taxis and tour buses to your destination.  More detailed coverage of areas I visited will come in a later post but from rural to city there are fantastic places to explore.

Canggu, north of Seminyak

Kuta Square
Beach at Candidasa

As always with adventure comes some risk, and it was my third trip out that I had a painful motorcycle wreck that left me with a very large hematoma

While recovering and as a promise to my wife on the next trip I made sure I was on 4 wheels (though I did sneak some two wheel time in).  I found four wheel to be more difficult than a bike with right hand drive in the car and left lane drive on the road.  I used a Toyota Yaris and on more than one occasion smacked side view mirrors with oncoming traffic on those narrow roads.  I did appreciate the AC though as living in Las Vegas, Bali is a humid and sticky place... any escape from humidity was appreciated.

If you are adventurous, experienced on a bike and like to get outside the tourist corridors or just see Bali on your terms; two wheels is the way to go.  However, if you don't have much experience or are a timid driver firmly plant yourself in the passenger seat of a taxi or friends car and enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Getting there: Bali, Indonesia

Now that we have completed our business in Bali it is finally time to write about what a fabulous place this is.  From my time at RCI developing new business to my current consulting business I have always been cautious about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for the competition.  After the fact... no worries.  ;)
The bartenders at Harry Juku playing up for Mr. Ted as I was known

My first trip to Bali was really my first foray into Asia.  I've been to Europe, Caribbean, Central and South America but never Asia.  My first trip out was with business associates David Berg and Craig Harada, meeting my business partner Randy You and Marketing Director Marcus Ito in Bali.  Our client had a single resort called Bali Island Villas that primarily catered to Japanese tourists and we were hired to build a brand, a product and rules for use, setting up sales in marketing in Bali, Japan, etc.  For those RCI members out there it is affiliated so you have an opportunity to exchange.  Follow this link to see The Island Regency Club now.

We flew Cathay for our first trip out and had a layover in Hong Kong.  I was surprised by the airport.  It was like any other airport and that was the strange thing... like any other airport in the States.  From Burger King to Dunkin Donuts many western brands were represented.  It took me a bit to try to find the most authentic Chinese food I could... for an airport. 

Enjoying Airport Chinese in Hong Kong

Notice in the background in the photo, specifically the Dior poster.  Something else that surprised me, all the models in the ads were westerners.  To me that would be like going to Las Vegas Airport and finding only Asian models on all the posters.  The Western Culture really is permeating everything.  I realize that Hong Kong was a former British territory but I saw this same trend in Singapore, Seoul, Bali, etc.  Trying to keep big money westerners comfortable or something else?

Craig Harada joining me and David Berg
The flight was great.  After flying internationally, it was truly depressing to realize the state of our domestic airline services.  In the US you have to pay $5 for a crappy, stale cold cut sandwich.  Cathay, Singapore Airlines and Korean Airlines provide open bar, choice of multiple hot meals and snacks both western and eastern, hot towels and a complete entertainment console at each seat from games to over 150 movies from all over the world.  While flying for 24-32 hours depending on layovers, it made the flight very comfortable.  The flight attendants were top notch, better than first class in the US.

I plan on heading out to France in the next 12 months and it will be interesting to compare Atlantic, international carriers vs Pacific as it has been a long time since I flew to Europe.  I did have experience with South American carriers like Copa and they were still nicer than the US.

This was the only layover on our first trip to Bali and wasn't two horribly long for international flights.  Even if you have a long layover, of which I had a few, there are always excellent mini hotels and private shower areas where you can get cleaned up or sleep for a few hours between flights.  After sitting on a plane for 16-20 hours there is nothing like taking a hot shower and wearing clean clothes so pack a change in your carryon.

Hong Kong Airport towers

When we finally arrived in Denpasar, Bali were were greeted by a partially open air airport not too much different from Kauai for instance. Customs on the other hand was super congested with tourists from around the world crowded together in a hot and humid waiting area as perhaps 8 lines were open to check passports.  Entry visa was about $12.

Flight arrivals waiting in the stuffy customs area

I apologize for the blur of the pictures here but I was trying to snap them on the down low as you never really know each countries policy concerning photographs in the customs area.  I didn't want to find out but my urge to photograph the experience led to this compromise.  Then I was greeted with this sign. 
Spicoli beware!
Death Penalty for drug traffickers... what about unauthorized picture takers?  IPhone slides into pocket...

Funny thing about this.  I had to overlook a lot of good timeshare sales executives because I didn't want them to be put to death for their vices.

As for our arrival, our client had a particularly good arrangement for arriving business clients that we integrated into the club as a major benefit to ownership.  We were greeted upon arrival by an agent of the resort, and whisked through the VIP section of customs with all documentation, visa's etc. being handled by our guide.  While other tourists perspired in line for perhaps an hour waiting to get through customs, we got our bags and were through in 10 minutes, escorted to a waiting van where our driver greeted us with cold towels and bottled water that was icy cold. 
I'm not driving... right hand drive
We were driven to the best money changers in the area.  FYI if you don't know already, don't change your money at the airport.  While it may be convenient the conversion rate isn't the best.  I recall that Denpasar airport exchange was about 8,500 rupiah to the US Dollar... about a mile out it was 8,900 rupiah to the dollar.  And in case you are wondering, you can get a meal like this: Fresh sword fish or tuna, veggies, rice a few beers and desert for about 30,000 rupiah or $3 US.  In Vegas I would probably pay at least $50 for a meal like this.  This fish was right off the boat... literally.

Freshly caught and grilled swordfish and Bintang in Padangbai

More Bali to come in future posts... Seminyak, Kuta, Padangbai... people, culture, hotspots and adventure.

The Video above is of Padangbai at an IRC building site.

Out of curiosity I checked Dream Vacation Network for availability next month and found 191 resorts in the most demanded locations in Bali like Ubud and Kuta starting at $41 per night.  Cheap for some eat, pray and love in your life if you can get a good deal on a flight!