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Water Voyage

Friday, August 31, 2012
This is a story of luck, technology, and a little bit of planning.

This past Wednesday, as I do most Wednesdays, I took an outrigger canoe (OC-6) out with a team of people. I've been steering the boat, so I sit in the bench in the very back. Since I'm steering, I'm more or less responsible for the boat and the paddlers, so I've been taking my iPhone with me, just in case I need to call for help.

Of course, there's a good change of a huli (flipping the boat over) on the outrigger, so I purchased a waterproof phone bag in which to put my phone, so that if I got dunked, it would survive. Despite the fact that the bag color option was only "camoflauge", I liked it because it also claimed to be buoyant. Fast forward to Wendesday night. I put my phone in the case, put the case in my pocket, and I remember thinking "boy, that doesn't feel very secure in there, I hope it doesn't fall out", but, last time I felt that way, I just managed to adjust the bag such that it was below the level of the side of the boat, and all was fine. Of note, the boat is narrow in the back; the bench I sit on is only a half-inch wider than my hips.

phone in the dry bag

We left the Riverplace Marina, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, and headed south to go around Ross Island. We took a break just south of the Ross Island Bridge, then paddled hard down the Holgate Channel to the houseboats on the south side of the island, where we prepared to turn around and return along the main channel. It was then that I noticed that my phone was no longer in my pocket - it had fallen out sometime in the past 45 minutes!


An iPhone 4S isn't inexpensive, and trying to replace one would be prohibitively expensive. I was trying not to freak out, but I let the other five paddlers know what was going on and asked if they wouldn't mind heading back the way we came, in case we could find it. I asked if anybody else happend to have a smartphone, and, thankfully, a fellow paddler had his iPhone with him in a dry-bag. We paddled back, pulled up next to a houseboat so we wouldn't drift, and I started using his phone.

I had long ago enabled the "Find My iPhone" feature on my phone, which would force it to check in, give me the location, and allow me to force it to make a sound. However, I was a long way from a computer. Fortunately, I was able to download the Find My iPhone app and sign in with my iCloud account. I held my breath as I clicked on my phone.

 ... and it checked in! I could see that, only seconds ago, my phone gave its location as a small area just south of the Ross Island Bridge (about a mile and a half downstream), close to the east bank of the river. We immediately paddled back north along the Holgate Channel.

The minutes seemed like hours, but I did my best to keep up centered in the current, paddling hard to get the boat downstream as quickly as possible. I envisioned my phone continuing to float past the bridge, into the construction area where the new Caruthers Bridge is being built. Perhaps it would get lodged against or even sucked under a barge? I was trying not to panic, and steeling myself for having to jump in the river to try to fetch my phone - assuming we could find it!

Finally we approached the Ross Island Bridge. I fished my friend's phone back out of his dry-bag and checked for my phone's location again. It hadn't moved much! It was still just south of the bridge, and looked like it was very close to the shore. We approached, and I saw a few people hanging out on the rocky shore - not normally a place that's terribly accessible. We steered the boat slowly toward the bank and I started looking for my phone.

One slight issue with the Find My iPhone app is that it's very good at telling you where your phone is, but it's not as great at telling you where you are in relation to it - you don't show up on the map, just the phone. The app told me - within about 5 feet - where my phone was, but it took my a second to realize we were floating about 20 feet past where it was supposed to be. We backed up the boat - and I spotted it, bobbing gently against the rocks!

We pulled the boat close, being careful not to ground it. I was all set to jump out, when a gentleman happened past where we were looking, only 10 feet away. We got his attention, and pointed him to my phone (which, with the camoflauge, he didn't immediately spot, even though it was nearly at his feet.) He picked it up - and started draining some water out of it. My face fell - the phone was active, but had it gotten soaked? Would it be permanently damaged?

He was kind enough to toss it to us in the boat, so we didn't have to get out. We thanked him as the phone was passed back to me. I quickly opened it up, and found that, while damp on the inside, the phone wasn't soaking wet. It was as if it had been in my pocked in a rainstorm. Still, I quickly powered it off, intending to dry it out.

After we got back and celebrated retrieving my phone, I took it home. I put it in a bag of rice to help dry it out. Then the 36-hour wait began, as I didn't want to risk turning it on early.

This morning, I finally pulled it out of the bag. I plugged it into my computer, keeping my fingers crossed. It started up... and connected, synced, and started to charge! I quickly ran through a battery of tests: phone call, text, GPS, phone - they all worked! The thrill was a natural high.

In the end, it was a great deal of luck, but had I not purchase a buoyant dry-bag, the phone wouldn't have succcessfully floated on the Willamette for an hour or so. Had I not thought ahead to enable Find My iPhone, the amazing technology wouldn't have enabled us to track it. But had my friend not brought HIS iPhone, we wouldn't have found it... and that doesn't count all the other terrible things that could have happened to it. Like I said, planning, technology, and a whole lot of luck!

Update: after writing this, I looked up Evans' Branch, the company that made the dry bag.  It appears they're no longer in business.  Their website goes to a default Apache web server page, and the phone numbers are not answered by anyone who's ever heard of them.  Tragic, 'cause I was going to call and thank them.

Trek In The Park: Journey to Babel

Tuesday, August 28, 2012
This year's Trek In The Park presentation was "Journey To Babel". While I've attended in years past at Woodlawn Park in NE Portland, this year the venue changed to Cathedral Park, a much more beautiful, open, and generally quieter park with a larger audience area.  Where once we'd be in a small amphitheater with no real stage and with half the audience sitting behind the show, this new location had a nice stage, no opportunity for behind-the-stage sitting, and room for over twice as many people to watch!

Trek In The Park!

I arrived at the show over 3 hours early, and was rewarded with a comfortable spot close to the stage. With the hectic schedule I'd been keeping, it was nice to just sit in the park and relax, watching it fill in with an unbelievable number of people.  I've always maintained that, at the Trek in the Park shows, you'll never see as many sandals-worn-with-socks and so few biceps in one place, yet, in the end, these are my people.  Familes gathered to enjoy this presentation of a classic Star Trek episode - the one where we first meet Spock's parents, Sarek and Amanda - and enjoy the wry humor that a live presentation can really bring out.

Technically, this presentation was superior to previous ones as there was better sound, more room for props, amazing costumes, and more.  From an acting standpoint, as it's the same troop that's presented in years past, it has little room for growth as everyone was excellent.

I can't say enough good things about this, except that I'll definitely be there next year.  They hinted, at the end, that a fifth year (I missed the first one, but have caught the following three) might be the last.  If so, that would be a loss for all of us.

Victoria Dragonboat Festival 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

This past weekend, I traveled up to the Victoria Dragonboat Festival. We headed up to Port Angeles, leaving at a  leisurely 11 AM. My friend drove, and we chatted and laughed at the comedians whose recordings we'd brought with us. We left his car in Port Angeles, bought tickets, and boarded the MV Coho for a 90 minute journey to Victoria, BC, where I was looking forward to my first international dragonboat race.

I've only been on a ferry once before, that I remember. In 2005, I think, I took a motorcycle trip up I-5 to US-101 (the same path we took today) except I took the ferry back over from some other town back, essentially, to I-5, just south of the Canadian border. This trip was pleasant, although, despite reaching 100 degrees in Portland, it was mid-60s in Port Angeles and even cooler in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

My friend and I stayed in a hostel, the HI-Victoria, in downtown Victoria.  That night we set out to see the city's waterfront, we met up with some friends, we all had a fun time hanging out in this beautiful city.

After a night of fitful sleep with the room, for some reason, stiflingly hot, it was time to stumble out of bed and head down to the festival. We got there and found that the team, Bridge City Blitz Blue, had our first race in the 10th heat.

After stretching out, we stood in the sun and watches a race come in, finish, park, then unload. We loaded and paddled out into the busy harbor. We got lined up... and then we were off.

These boats were different that the ones we use in Portland. They felt as big as the ones we normally paddle on, but without a center brace. Also, the foot bar was really close, and I was having trouble bracing myself. Still, in the first race, we posted 2:05.20, a respectable time, beat only by a sub-2:00.00 team. For reference, we were the seventh fasted team (out of roughly sixty) in the first half of the day.

After an obnoxiously long break in which we sat for three and a half hours instead of racing and I gorged myself on mixed dried fruit medley, it was time for our second race.

We marshaled down to the boats and loaded up. I found a better place for my foot to be, though the boat felt slightly different and, honestly, it could have been the same spot on a different boat. Still, we paddled out... and immediately had to pull into a cove so the MV Coho could depart with a load of passengers bound for America.

When the next race started, we felt good. Still, the top-seeded team that they placed against us shot ahead. Try as we might, and sucking down as much air as I could, we were unable to catch them. At the end of the race, we were once again second with a time of 2:04.71, beat by another sub-2:00.00 team.

Then came the open division, aka "Man Boat" (with a lady or two on board and with our ranks supplemented by an excellent fellow team).  We  got our first chance to compete for a medal that night.  After a terrible start in which the announcer said "go" immediately after we were backing up the boat on her command, we took off, powering down the coarse.  We took second, and it was good, with a time of 1:55.80. We were the second fastest boat to race all day!  That's the first time I've ever been on a boat with a sub-2:00.00 time!

That night I went for a run along the waterfront, ate dinner, and went to bed early very, very sore. I did sleep better than the previous night, since it was notably cooler in the room.

Sunday morning, after packing up and checking out of the hostel, the team gathered early. We warmed up, stretched out, and then watched two of our boats race in their respective semifinals on a chilly morning that the announcer, from Victoria, compared to a morning in Portland.

Then it was time for Bridge City Blitz Blue to show our stuff in the Diamond division (second only to the Platinun division.)  We loaded up, paddled out... And had to wait for the MV Coho to leave the harbor. We moved some more... Then had to wait aboard the boat while the little water taxis did some dance that I couldn't see. Finally, race time. We had a terrible start, this time of our own making, and 200 meters into a 500 meter race, we were reportedly in third. Then we hit our power. Our boat jumped ahead, stroke by stoke, easily overtaking the boats ahead of us to post a finish time of 2:05.84 in first place. We gave everything we had, and we secured the best spot for the finals.

Then it was time to wait, and, almost 5 hours later, it was finally time for the Diamond mixed championship, with five boats already racing for that division's consolation prize. We'd secured the best spot (lane 3 of 5) and we had the best time of any team going into the race. After waiting, again, for the MV Coho to take off, we launched. We paddled hard. In my peripheral vision, I could see the boats next to us; the race was on. We paddled as hard as we could. I was constantly checking to make sure I was in sync with the paddler ahead of me.  I put everything I had into the race, and so did my teammates. But at the end, we only came in a close 3rd with a heartbreaking time of 2:09.56. It was the bronze medal for us, and my promise to myself to buy a nicer paddle if we took home the gold didn't need to be filled.

Some folks had the attitude of "hey, at least we got the medal". Sure, it's nice. But coming in third in a race we that was ours to lose? Disappointing, to say the least. Nothing feels worse than knowing that a race is yours to lose... and losing it.

But the team rallied in the beer garden, which I'd swear was filled more with Portlanders than folks from anywhere else.  'Twas good times, as we celebrated Team Velocity (they're the women's boat from Bridge City Paddling Club) and their platinum-division championship win.

My friend and I took the ferry back that night and chatted about how much fun the whole trip was.  And, during the long drive back, my thoughts kept drifting toward the upcoming Portland race...

A Classy Citizen

Thursday, August 02, 2012
It was a nice, sunny, summer afternoon when my friend and I took a walk through northeast Portland. On a quiet street, we spotted a bucket of sidewalk chalk, which a child had obviously used to draw a hopscotch game (or three) on the sidewalk in the shaky hand that only children and the elderly have. As we passed, we noted the presence of the chalk, but the definite absence of the child. It wasn't unusual; it was nearing the dinner hour.

However, what drew my eye was, in large, confidently written letters, the word "poop" inscribed in chalk the middle of the hopscotch field. I rolled my eyes, amused at this mostly-harmless and childishly funny bit of humor. Someone of questionable maturity had obviously borrowed the chalk and thought it would be funny to write. They weren't too far off the mark.

A little further past the hopscotch, on the block's corner, someone had written, in even larger letters, the word "ASS". The culprit was definitely treading the edge of taste in their vandalism.

The word 'ASS' written in chalk on the sidewalk...

My friend and I pondered this as we passed. Acknowledging the existence of the chalk and the wonton scrawling of profanity on the sidewalk, we felt it was our civic duty to correct it. But how should we do it? Then, as we were walking back past it later, it hit us.

Borrowing the chalk, we updated the message to something less troublesome. That's right, "Stay clASSy, Portland!" was our contribution toward cleaning up that street.

...becomes 'Stay Classy, Portland!'

We didn't quite get the color of the chalk to match. I'm sure no one will notice.



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