Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Update

Looking back, 2012 proved to be yet another good year. Being a chronic-worrier-trying-to-look-calm-parent, I was trying to find a physical outlet for Prem. He was average in most physical team sports like soccer, baseball etc. I felt that pushing him into running at this age might seemed like work to him and not play. So we focused on swimming. After getting Gold Fish and Big Fish badges from Happy Fish, he passed the Swim Team test with flying colors. He was unaware what he was getting into. From 30 minutes a week of swimming to 4-5 hours a week swimming.

Before his first class, we promised to celebrate this achievement at place of his choice. He wanted to go to Round Table Pizza. I took him to class 5 minutes early and when coach said that warm up for 16 laps, I knew this would be trouble. By the end of 1 hour session, when he came out, he was so tired and almost in tears. We went to Round Table Pizza, and decided to talk to coach next day. Most of the kids come little late anyway, and coach was okayed to try out 45 minutes session for first week. We continued to bring Prem 10-15 minutes late for couple of months, before he started to build his endurance, and when summer rolled in, coach asked us to bring him on time, for 90 minutes sessions. 

It is amazing how body adopts to regular practice. Things which seemed impossible couple of months ago, one could do that with little improvements every day. By end of summer, Prem was able to do a Swimathon; he swam around 2 miles, to raise fund for his swim team. Thank you all for all who contributed for this. Prem took two months break from Swim Team for September/October, and then rejoined it. My observation was that his general health improved greatly when he was swimming regularly and he was able to come out of cold very quickly. It seemed he grew more tall, relatively, in summer.

As I write this blog, Prem could juggle two balls well and getting proficient in Rubik cube. He likes doing Math. Needless to say he is better than me in using Smart Phone. He figured out how to shot panoramic photos and taught me  on our recent trip. Promila has been extremely busy with her PhD program. It has been very challenging and satisfying for her at the same time. She continued to receive scholarship and is a National Science Foundation GK12 Fellow.

I did my customary hike of Half Dome, with Sumit and Kumarthis year on Father’s day in June. Besides that, I did no major hikes. I ran two Marathons in March and May respectively, and then reduced my weekly mileage to 18-25 miles a week. I had no plans for running another race or Marathon for the year. Running regularly, to keep healthy has become a habit now. And on back of my mind I still had the goal of running sub 4 hour marathon. My personal record for Marathon is 4 hr 11 minutes, set this  year. I was not sure if I could run sub 4, but that was the challenge for me for next year. Then through my running buddy Dave, I met Jim, 66 year old runner in October. He had 3 hour 9 minutes marathon after 60 year of age.

Jim changed my perspective about training, and gave me few ideas to try. I could stay with him for 5 K, but longer distances, I did not have the endurance to keep up with him. I started seriously taking his ideas, and with just 4 weeks of training, I ran 5 K in Turkey Trot and set up the PR at 21:25. Though some of the ideas were counter-intuitive, like run slowly, even intervals, but they seemed to be working. I have been running faster races and almost no recovery time. Keeping my fingers crossed, and hope to continue my training for another 6-10 months before thinking about Marathon. I was glad to have Prem run 0.5 mile at Turkey Trot with me this year. And it would be a big parenting challenge in 2013 to get him to run with me on some of these weekend runs on track. Promila, also is getting committed to exercise. With her PhD qualifying exam over finally this year in October, hopefully, she will get regular in training.

We took a summer trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake National Park and Redwood National Park. Whole family thoroughly enjoyed this week long trip, and learned quite a few new things from Rangers program. In winter we took last minute vacation to Sacramento, Death Valley National Park, Hoover Dam and Las Vegas. Sacramento trip was educational trip for Prem to learn about birth of California due to Gold Rush, Railroads and their significance in trade for California and rest of the country, State Capitol and Sutter Fort. We enjoyed staying in RV with Kumar and Shubha family. Prem did try his hands in gold panning.

Death Valley had the lowest point in Western Hemisphere (282 ft below Sea Level). We were pleasantly surprised to see Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon and Scotty’s Castle. Prem rolled around in sand dunes for couple of hours and we were fortunate to walk on rim of somewhat active Ubehebe volcano there.  Dante’s Peak, Borax mining works and history behind Scotty’s castle added to charm of Death Valley. 

After spending couple of days in Death Valley, we headed to Las Vegas. I was surprised to see innovative new slot and other machines in Casinos based on background themes of popular old and new Hollywood movies and music groups. There was no doubt about amount of money the spent in R&D. Normal person, like me, does not stand a chance to win, end up feeling good in spite of losing. Vegas trip is not complete without watching at least one show. It was difficult to find age appropriate kid friendly shows. We settled for Blue Man group show. And all three of us enjoyed it thoroughly, show was musical, witty and was very interactive with audience. Prem understood the advantage of Casino and wanted to find out if there is a University where they teach about gambling. We spent a day at Hoover Dam, and then headed back to Bay Area to spend new year eve with Som/Swapna. Photos and more Photos

All in all, great year with some real growth in areas we wanted to grow in. We feel blessed and fortunate.

Summer 2012 - Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake and Redwood National Parks

Planning – After putting Prem for first week in school camp, he was asking where are we going in vacation. This is the first time he ever asked, could it be peer pressure, do not know. I asked him, as where he wanted to go. He mentioned Washington DC to see Lincoln Memorial, White House and Washington Monument. He was not aware of Smithsonian museum. I asked him if he wanted to go to Disney World in Florida, he didn’t. For last couple of years we have been going to Southern California and couple of days trips to Yosemite. We talked for few more weeks, and probably on seeing that there is no concrete plan, he was ok to go anywhere, as long as he has to stay in hotel and monkey around in the pool.

Ummm……coming from India, vacation primarily meant to go to tourist/historical places. India has lot to offer in terms of geographical diversity and cultural heritage. You try to cover as many places in the time/money available. Generally, taking vacation used to be mission, planned couple of months in advance, hotel/train booked. We had fun, but idea of relaxation and chilling out never occurred. When first time in 1999, one of my colleague shared their plan of vacation in US, I was surprised. Basically on asking details in different ways, I found out, it was going to Bermudas, and staying 2 weeks in hotel, reading book near the swimming pool. Nothing else planned.

Now when Prem asked me to get out and stay in hotel/resort some place for a week; I realized that he is more Westernized than I am in this aspect. Promila’s schedule for summer was relatively freed up, and now onus was on me to plan something. I knew going to Southern California was easy. I wanted to go up north in Oregon and Washington, as it was difficult to enjoy these states in winter rain/weather for us. I started looking up the US National Park map. I want to spend 2-3 days in each National Park. It was apparent that 7 days are not going to be enough to cover Northern California, Oregon and Washington National Parks (NP). I had to drop Washington for another day/week in future.

I read AAA guide book to get some idea on Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic and Redwood NP. I did not get much. I started talking to people who had been to these places. This helped quite a bit in solidifying the plan. Thanks to Liz, Tapa and John Kim for sharing their experiences and recommendations. And from our Yosemite and Joshua Tree NP, we knew we had to do some Rangers programs hosted by the NP and Jr Ranger programs.

July 22, 2012 (Sunday): With relaxation as one of the goal of this vacation, I kept all Saturday to chill out and start talking about plan to Promila and Prem. Plan was to reach Lassen Volcanic National Park (LVNP)by 11, and do two small hikes, one guided by ranger. I had couple of back up hikes in mind as well. With recent Berry Creek hike, I knew Prem and Promila were in good shape and can do 4-5 hours 10 mile hikes. I was not sure if they could do it every day. I have to remind myself, that one of major goal is to relax too and I should not cram too many things.

In all, we wanted to cover LVNP, Lava Beds National Monument, Crater Lake NP and Redwood NP. I was not sure about Lava Beds after reading about it, there were no ranger programs midweek, and it was little bit out of way. On discussing with Promila, it was clear, that we were not going to do it, and instead spend more time in Crater Lake NP. It was good to have some plan, but we were flexible to account for energy levels, ranger recommendations etc. This flexible mindset helped us in enjoying the trip much more, as I did not have to be pushing Promila/Prem and we allocated 2-3 days every NP.

We were taking our 13 year old Toyota Corolla, I wanted to pack everything by night and leave by 6 AM in the morning. Generally, most of the car trips, our start gets delayed by couple of hours (or more). It was very pleasant to get out of house before 7 AM. We had 4 new tires in the car, and got air checked, as I knew that we would climb up from 0 to 8000 ft, with lot of ups and downs. New tires helped quite a bit throughout the 7 days trip on high elevation curvy roads, and car held up quite well.

We reached before 11 AM to visitor center, and talked to ranger about Ranger programs available for the day. We went to do Bumpass Hell hike. This is our 2nd trip to LVNP. First time we tagged along with another family, and did some site seeing but no ranger programs. Spending some time (20-30 minutes) with ranger is highly recommended, as you get to know the latest of what is happening, like bear/mountain lion activities in the park, depending on time/strength/interest ranger could guide you as what to do. For example, if we have interest in waterfalls or lake or snow play or reaching to one of the peaks or looking at some active volcanoes. I did not realize that LVNP has all 4 different type of volcanoes, and a lot of them are still considered active.

Inside the somewhat active Volcano
While doing, Bumpass Hell hike, I realized that we parked our car in caldera ( huge hole made by mountain/volcano collapsing inwardly after eruption), and then you are hiking down to center of volcano where it is still somewhat active and you are watching multiple geo-thermal phenomena, like boiling mud pots, sulfur streams/fumes, devil kitchen etc. And when you look around and up, you get to see that surrounding peaks were walls of collapsed volcano.  I did not know most of these details in my earlier trip here. Slowing down, reading ahead and talking to rangers helped in taking in and appreciating the LVNP much more.

After Bumpass Hell, we came back to visitor center, and did a Jr Ranger program. I learned quite a few things. Kids were divided into two groups and given tasks. First one was that you are hiking in back country and suddenly there was a storm and you have to create a shelter, how would you do that. You have just a simple rope and a tarp. Idea was as how to keep yourself dry by building hanging the tarp on a strong branch or on rope itself between two trees, and then hold the corner of tarp with either stone. Further one can collect dry twigs etc to make a good comfortable bed to rest on. Second task was to create a fire in 10 minutes to help your hiking buddy who was soaked and was very cold. Here, you had to find dry spot, not so windy, probably against one big rock, find dry twigs and put stones around it. First try to make fire with only very few things, and later on after starting small fire, put bigger branches etc.

We took our lunch at visitor center, and it was 5 PM before we decided to another hike. Ranger highly recommended Kings Creek Fall hike. Since the days were long and we had a good break, we decided to do that hike. It was around 5-6 miles round trip, with views of meadow, creek and Falls in the end. Good thing that we had mosquito repellent. We initially thought it was only 3 mile, and later found out that short cut shown on trail map was closed because of rock slides, and we had to take a longer route to the falls.
Four hours drive, two hikes and a Jr Ranger program on first day, we were done for the day. It was still over an hour ride back to hotel in Redding. It was good that we had detailed maps of the areas, as phone and gps did not work for most of the 7 days during this trip. Travelodge in Redding was a great find, thanks to We all enjoyed a long bath, did not set up any alarms for morning and slept well.

Shasta Dam
July 23, 2012 – We decided to do the Shasta Dam tour first. The guided tour, 1.5 hours long,  was very informative and highly recommended. I did not know that Shasta Dam was twice as big as Hoover Dam, made by same Engineer who made Hoover, built couple of months ahead of schedule and under budget, specifically in time of 2nd World War, when most of the resources were steered towards war efforts. Tour takes you inside the dam, where you see over 500 ft wide tunnels. These tunnels are used by engineers to inspect on seepage, deeper you go in the dam, wider these tunnels become. Kids had lot of fun doing echo experiment in the tunnel. Primary purpose of the dam was to conserve water, flood control; and it also helps meeting the peak electric demands. Dam was not built on any river, Shasta Lake is there because of this dam which is primarily has rain water  from the catchment area surrounding it. Downstream of dam was the start of Sacramento river. Tour guide was passionate employee and quite funny.

Shasta Caverns
We reached Shasta Caverns site in afternoon, and did a boat, bus and guided tour here too. We get to see few houseboats. Caverns had 8 flight of stair, and highlight of tour, which Prem remembered very well, even after few weeks, was Opera sung by the tour guide. Tour was excellent, and she told Snowwhite story in the Cathedral room, imagining different rock formations into story characters.

We met Alexa, Maria and her mother at hotel. Prem was looking forward to swim with Alexa in the hotel pool. It was hot and both were trying to show off different skills. Alexa had a underwater camera, and asked me to take picture of them.  We discussed next day program and decided to go back to LVNP. As per Ranger recommendations, we wanted to do Cinder Cone Volcano (your typical volcano you see in cartoons etc) on North East side of the park. I was excited that you get to hike an active volcano and you get to go walk on rim of the volcano and can look inside. It was 2-3 hours hike, however, since it was too hot, I was not sure if Prem and Promila should come. This part of the park was not frequented by visitors. I was checking on map and did not really see any roads for last 6 miles to the trailhead.

July 24 : This is one of few times, I was able to enjoy the drive, soaking in the beauty of surrounding area, as roads here were not windy, and you get through Old growth forest. Both Promila and I were trying to compare LVNP with Yosemite, as we were gasping with serene beauty of forest, with Mt Lassen in backdrop. LVNP may not have the same falls or granite rocks as Yosemite, however, it has lot of other things to offer, like Volcanoes, lakes, streams and very different scenery. Ranger told us that Yosemite has around 4 million visitors every year, LVNP has only 400, 000. Finally, we reached to Butte’s lake area, and started driving for Cinder Cone Volcano trailhead. It was poorly maintained gravel road. Gravels were not compacted, and our compact car was bouncing and rattling quite much. After 5 minutes, we turned around, as there was no phone reception and we did not see anybody in that area. Notes to self, bring a 4 wheel drive next time to do this hike. Not that I needed another excuse to come here, it would be good to do this hike and Mt Lassen Peak which opens only couple of days a month during full moon, as they are repairing the trail currently.
Burney Falls

We started heading back and did Lava Tubes or Subway Cave, created by lava flow 2000 years ago. It was pitch dark, and we were prepared with flash light and a light jacket as temperature drops down considerably. It was around 20 minutes walk to see various points inside the cave. And from there we headed to Burney Falls (also known as MacArthur Burney Falls). After hanging out at visitor center, and watching local picture on falls’ history, we did a loop hike of falls, and hiked down, 10 minutes, to see 135 ft tall falls. We spent some time there, and headed back and came to know the loop was a part of Pacific Crest Trail.

We still have a lot of time, so we headed back to LVNP and did Lake Manzanita hike, and surprisingly ran into Dave, running buddy, who was there with kids for a week, camping in a big group. It was motivational  to know that he was managing to run while he was out there.  We did another small hike on Lake reflection, and headed back, and did dinner at Janya Thai restaurant near the hotel.

Sun Dial Bridge
July 25 : After doing breakfast, we went to see Sundial Bridge, another little gem in Redding. From there we headed north to Crater Lake, Oregon. We stopped near base of Mt Shasta, drove around the small town. Next stop was Klamath in Oregon, just 40 miles south of Crater Lake NP. Lava Bed National Monument was only 40 miles south from there. We decided to eat in Klamath and spend more time in Crater Lake. By the time, we reached it was already 6 PM, we checked in the Crater Lake Lodge; another great place to stay, right on rim of caldera (7700 years ago, volcano erupted, and spewed ash for many years. Ash becomes so heavy that a big portion of this volcanic Mt Mazama collapsed on itself, making Crater Lake, which is 4 mile wide and 6 miles long. There is a rim drive, 33 mile long, with lot of Vista points and small hikes to access various interesting point.

Wizard Island Volcano from
Watchman Peak
Promila looked at ranger program and found out quickly that there was a sunset hike to Watchman peak at 7:30 PM. This was on west side of lake and goes up around 700 ft, for 1.1 mile. They had a tower, initially created to monitor the fires in earlier days. It was another very entertaining and informative talk from the ranger, explaining the Clark nutcracker and it symbiotic relation with the local white pine tree. There was lot of snow on the trail. I had brought gloves, so kids were having fun in snow while hiking up. It helps to have both Alexa and Prem, as they create their own fun game, and they were strong enough to keep up with the rest of the group.

July 26 : We drove around the crater and covered most of the remaining Vista Points. And then headed down for the highly recommended boat trip in the Crater lake. Hike down was 1.1 mile, and you get to see one of the cleanest deep blue water. Water literally looked like dark ink blue color at some places, and immediately next to it, it appeared sky blue. Guide explained that where there was more depth, water is dark blue. Apparently, there was experiment done few years ago, where they lowered a person in the lake, in a water craft, 2000 deep, and from bottom, water was so clear, this person could see the boat floating on top.
Crater Lake from the Lodge
We saw two more volcanoes inside the Crater Lake during our boat ride. The prominent one, which looked like an Island is called Wizard Island and is typical Cinder Cone Volcano inside the Crater Lake. Other volcano was ancient volcano, which is now known as Phantom Ship Island, as it sometimes hard to see and seemed disappeared. Earlier in morning, I hiked the highest point on Crater Lake, known as Mt Scott, elevation 8934 ft. This used to be another volcano, and one can view all of Crater lake from here. Prem and Promila enjoyed the food at Crater Lake Lodge specially the Rainbow Trout and Stuffed French Toast. Food was really well done and both of them kept talking about it for months later. Prem wanted to become fisherman and catch fish to supply at Crater Lake Lodge. Most photos came really good, area was pristine and serene. And I was glad that I was able to get out beyond Yosemite and enjoyed other National Parks.

July 27 & 28: For next two days, we drove through Redwoods national park, which is has four different state park covered in it. I could never get enough of Redwoods. Fern Canyon was great, and part of Jurassic Park movie was shot here. We saw Elks in meadows here too. This was a big park and there are 4 main scenic drive, we covered 3 of them. We stopped over on almost every vista point. We took our car inside the two Redwood trees, Klamath Tour Through Tree and Chandelier Tree. It was apparent, that we needed to spend more time there.  There was so much to see and treasure.