When I returned to Rochester from Seattle, I did a little bit more than see my sister kick ass at lacrosse. I also spent some time hanging out with my long time landscaping buddy Jan (pronounced Yan). Jan came over from the Czech Republic about six years ago and his english isn't the best, but he's a great guy and one of the hardest workers I know. Because Jan works so much landscaping, he has learned to use his time off effectively. He enjoys adventurous excursions whenever possible. One such excursion I accompanied him on was a trip to Niagara falls to check out the jet boats.
One such excursion was our last-second trip to Niagara Falls to try out the Jet Boats. We road Jan's new BMW R1150 GS Adventure motorcycle and made a day trip of it. We took route 104 instead of taking the highways, and ended up seeing a lot more. This included a stuffed tigger driving a tractor:
Somehow, Jan found the river downstream of the falls without a map. However, we didn't know where the jet boats were. After asking a man mowing his lawn where a dock might be, we did our best to find a likely spot. With my ungodly luck, we got to a Jet Boat place just in time to make a reservation on the last boat of the day. Here's a pic of Jan and I in our water gear just before getting on the boat:
Just before stepping on the boat, the operators snapped another pic of Jan and I. They supersized it and put it on their wall inside the office later on, explaining to us that they rarely get a picture where people do anything but the normal placid smile... They didn't mind when Jan took a picture of their picture:
The Jet Boats had three diesel engines totalling about 2000 horsepower. They were ridiculously fast and could pull some awesome turns. Jan and I decided to sit in the front row where we would get the most action. Here's us heading toward the rapids:
The best part of the experience was hitting the big rapids, where we would dip into troughs that were about 15 feet below the top of the waves. Here's a pic of us getting destroyed by one such wave:
In these situations, you had to hold onto the rails tight so that you wouldn't get completely swept away. It was a lot more thrilling than I had anticipated. While we were enjoying the rapids, we noticed some canadians chilling on the rocks on the northern banks of the river. On one pass, we saw a man waving feverishly to our boat. Most of our group, myself included, waved back, thinking they were just being friendly. Only Jan noticed that the man might be waving in desparation. On the return, Jan and I noticed the same thing again and called out to the guides to help the person's friend, who had fallen into the water. Because our boat didn't have the right equipment, we called for another boat to come and perform the rescue:
We watched with interest as the man held onto a rock for his life while the other boat prepared to help him. However, just before the rescue crew reached him, he managed to get himself out of the water somehow. Once this happened, our boat sped back to port without letting us hang around to see the resolution. Once Jan and I got off the jet boats, we headed up to check out the main area of niagara falls. Here they are viewed from the American side:
The water vapor rising in the distance is coming from the canadian falls, which are horseshoe shaped and much larger than the american falls. However, we learned that in spite of how massive the falls seem, they represent only 25% of the total water volume. 75% of the water instead passes through the hydroelectric plants. So, the falls are only a quarter in size compared to what they were like before the hydro plants were built. Did you know that Vin Diesel is the only man ever to go up the falls in a cardboard box?
Sometime in mid June, I returned to Madison to get ready for the Intonation festival in Chicago. I had an extra ticket, and since Martin and Dana couldn't come, I decided to invite Rob Melville to come along. Rob had a frat brother who lived in Chicago near Union Park, and he was up for coming too, so we stayed at his place and walked to the park each day.
Because all of the media for this festival and the next were captured on my digital camcorder and not my digital camera, it will take me a while to secure some good pics to document it on here. So instead, I am going to skip ahead to August, when I Returned from Madison to Rochester to do some landscaping with Jan to make extra money.
At some point, when I was in Madison, Jan explained to me that he was planning a trip to Panama on his motorcycle and he was wondering if I would like to come along. I thought it was a great idea, but since I didn't have a bike, or know how to ride a bike, I had a lot of things to take care of. The first thing I did was get my motorcycle license. This I obtained through the program at Blackhawk Technical college in Beloit. It was a three day course, one day in the classroom and two days on the bikes. I actually enjoyed the experience a lot, except for the test at the very end, which was quite nervewracking. Our instructor was also kind of a hard-ass and his way of teaching was not without its dramatic moments.
Anyway, I passed, barely, and the next step was finding a bike. Fortunately, there was a perfect bike online that fit the bill. In less than a week I had my own 2005 Kawasaki KLR 650 with only 2500 miles on it:
To test my offroad skillz, I took the bike to an area that was being prep'd for more sprawl near where Jared lived:
I also got a pic when I dropped the bike for the first time:
Once I got it back to Rochester, Jan and I baptized it in a fitting way:
Once in Rochester, I immediately began landscaping again to earn some extra cash. Since my sister also needed some extra money, I worked with her on a number of my earlier jobs. As always, I was surprised by the ridiculous amount of work that we got from passing out flyers for only 10 hours. We passed out about 1000 flyers, and I received at least 25 jobs, several of which were more than $500 in work, and one was over $1000. The landscaping was hard work, as always, but I was pleased to find that I was as good as ever at the profession. Jan and I collaborated on some tougher jobs, and the money started rolling in.
In the evenings, Jan and I would frequently jump on our bikes (I needed all the practice I could get) or we'd do some other random fun thing. One day we even decided to take the Kayaks out to Mendon ponds for a quick paddle. It was very relaxing to just sit out in our kayaks and drink cold beer on the pond.
At some point, just out of curiosity, I checked the prices of flights from Rochester to San Juan now that it was the off season. I was surprised to find that they were only $300 round trip. When I told Jan this, he was immediately up for taking a trip to Culebra and Vieques, just like what Dana and I had done previously. This time, however, we decided we would camp out on the island. We were a little worried since it was the rainy season, but people online assured us that it was all hype and no substance, so we bought the tickets anyway and prepared to leave.
The trip was a bit different than when I went with Dana. For instance, there was a lot more running from policemen on 4-wheelers this time. There was also a lot more Raman Noodle soup and tuna this time, too. As it turned out, there was no more legal camping on Culebra now that the season was over. So, we improvised and setup tents on some of the more remote beaches to avoid confrontations. You may remember this location from the pictures from the last trip:
This may just be my perception, but the water seemed even clearer on this trip than before.
We slept the first night on Playa Flamenco and had no problems with bugs at all. In fact, I slept outside on my blanket for a couple of hours before going into the tent. During the second day, we trekked over to Carlos Rosario beach and went snorkeling for a long time. Jan got immediately sunburnt, and had to wear his shirt for the rest of the trip. As it started getting darker Jan snapped these pics:
We didn't realize that Carlos Rosario was shielded from the wind, and ended up getting attacked pretty early by the bugs. I got a fire going on the beach to help keep them off, but it didn't do too much good, and we eventually retired to the tent. However, the damn pesky beach flies were small enough to get through the meshing on Jan's tent, and we suffered all night long. It was almost as bad as the night I spent with Jared at lake Superior.
The next morning we spent a lot of time snorkeling once again. I'll put the snorkeling pics at the end of this page. Jan took a picture of Carlos Rosario early in the morning:
While walking around the town, Jan and I found an interesting looking tree behind one of the buildings:
Since Jan and I were both in desperate need of sleep, we asked around at some hotels for pricing for a few nights. Fortunately, we found a place right on the pier that was air conditioned and only $45 per night. At this rate, we figured it was worth it to stay there for the remaining three nights on Culebra, so we did. Our bed was extremely comfortable and we kept the AC on max, so the room was freezing cold all day long :) Here's a picture of me preparing a delicious meal in our room:
Those sterno containers were a fantastic source of heat for boiling water. They cost only $1 each and they lasted for three meals. At some point, Jan and I bought a machete, went coconut hunting, and hit up the local liquor store so that we could make our own pina coladas:
That day, we made the long hike to Playa Resaca to go boogie boarding, just like I did with Dana. Unfortunately, we had the opposite problem this time. The waves were too small! In spite of this, we still enjoyed the hike and enjoyed a relaxing day on a vacant beach. The following day, we walked to a beach where the snorkeling was reported to be good, and Dana and I hadn't visited yet. The quality of the life underwater at this beach was at least as good as Carlos Rosario, and I swam with a barracuda for the first time, as well as families of stingrays. That night, Jan and I spent some time drinking pina colada and feeding raman soup to the fish near the pier:
The following day, we left early to go to Vieques for the bioluminescent bay. Once there, we took a taxi to the Sun Bay area and went into the town. We wanted to rent some scooters for the day, but Jan pissed off the rental people by commenting on their prices, and they wouldn't rent them too us. No worse for it, we decided to just relax and go swimming. We also dined on coconuts again:
That night, instead of taking a tour to the bioluminescent bay, we walked ourself. The walk wasn't too bad, and we were able to take a picture of the sign on the way. Test your picture-reading skillz!
The bay was just as spectacular as I remembered it. Truly it is one of the most fantastic phenomena in the entire world. Jan was just as elated as I was, and promised to bring his children one day to see it, if it's still around...
Once we returned from the bay, we were on our way to setup camp on the beach when a bunch of rangers or cops started chasing us in the dark on 4 wheelers. We didn't want to be spotted because we knew we'd get hit with a fine if we were caught. Luckily we were able to get everything inside of the campground and made ourselves seem just like dumb tourists, so they had to take it easy on us. We escaped the next morning before they collected camping fees, and hit the road.
While waiting for a car to hitchhike, we saw a baby horse that had just been born. Its mother still had the sack hanging out of her. It was pretty amazing how big the baby horse was, must have hurt like hell! Because no cars were going in our direction, we started walking toward the main town. Jan tried to commandeer a horse for the ride:
Someone picked us up in their truck after only a few minutes of walking and gave us a quick car-tour of the island. He also taught us some spanish, before dropping us off in Isabel II. We had an hour or so before the ferry left, so we decided to check out the waterfront:
We spotted the giant tanker that had run aground and decided to check it out:
After this, Jan and I returned to the airport and came home to Rochester. What a fantastic trip it turned out to be! And the BEST part was the snorkeling, which we did our best to capture for you! Here's the snorkeling pics, with minimal dumb commentary:
Once Jan and I returned from Culebra, my family and I went camping for a few weeks on Cranberry Lake in the aderondack's. It was a great excursion, and I spent a lot of time reading Thoreau and brushing up on my Spanish. The following weekend, Jan and I rode our motorcycles to the same spot, although we ended up having to hike for quite a while since the bikes couldn't make it through the woods.
A couple of weeks later, Jared, John Wunderlin and Zach all visited me while Jan returned to the Czech Republic. Zach stayed at my place while John and Jared shared Jan's pad for a couple of nights. For the first week or so, the guys helped me finish up my landscaping jobs so that we could be free for some more adventurous entertainment. Once we had finished that, we all took a three day trip to Cranberry to see the leaves turn. This time was by far the most beautiful, and Jared captured some pictures for us. First, here's a picture of our campsite:
Here's some pictures of the trees across the lake. Notice the small tree growing out of the old stump in the middle of the lake:
Here's a pic of the small beach near the campsite:
At some point, we found an old stump that was decomposing, and we used the machete to hack it into a piece of art. Here's our finished product:
On our way into the campsite, we dropped one of our water containers into a river at a difficult crossing. The next day, we returned to retrieve it. Zach did pretty much all the work:
We misplaced our sterno containers, so we instead used our awesome pot and a grate to boil water:
Jared also took a couple pictures of trees growing in odd ways:
Back to Rochester for a couple weeks. Madison in late June/early July. Chicago fest in late June. Rochester in late July. Late July in Chicago for fest August/September Landscaping October visitations, and Philly.
Prelude: My First Year Part 1